The Apparition of Our Lady of Walsingham (AD 1061)

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N September 24th, Ordinariate Catholics since our inception following the promulgation of Anglicanorum Cœtibus in AD 2009 and English Catholics in general since the year 2000 have celebrated Mary most holy under her title Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Cathedral of the North American Ordinariate, the original British Ordinariate erected in 2011, and the Parish Church of Rockhampton in the West Pacific Ordinariate are all named after this apparition. What is its significance?

In 1061, Richeldis de Faverches, an English noblewoman living in Walsingham received a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This event was recorded in song by Richard Pynson much later in the 15th Century. The appearance of Mary to Richeldis is one of the oldest recorded Marian apparitions.

In a series of three visions Mary showed Richeldis the House of the Annunciation in Nazareth and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham. Mary also promised that “Whoever seeks my help there shall not go away empty-handed.” The wealthy but devout Richeldis obeyed and built the shrine.

Over the centuries the shrine became a popular destination for pilgrimages. Wayside chapels developed where pilgrims could go to confession and Mass. The Slipper Chapel, built in 1325, was the closest of these to the Shrine, where pilgrims would remove their shoes (or “slippers”) and walk the final “holy mile” barefoot.

Yet in 1538, King Henry VIII sent his commissioners to destroy the shrine. They took the image of Our Lady with the Child Jesus (see image below) as she had allegedly appeared to Richeldis and carried it off to London where it was publicly burnt. The Slipper Chapel escaped destruction, but fell into obscurity.

Pilgrimages ceased, and public devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham and public Catholic devotion in general were made illegal in Britain until as late as 1829, when the Act of Catholic Emancipation was passed by the British Parliament.

In 1896, Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the Slipper Chapel and restored it to Catholic worship. The following year, in 1897, Pope Leo XIII officially restored the sanctuary by papal rescript. Pope Leo said “When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.” The first public pilgrimage since the Reformation was organized the same year by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom, and throughout the 20th Century pilgrimages to and interest in the shrine and its significance for English Catholicism has continued and increased.

Thus in England and now in the Ordinariates, September 24th – the Commemoration of Our Lady of Ransom, after Mary’s intercession for captives of a false religion, in the Old Universal Calendar still vivified by Masses celebrated according to the 1962 Missal – has been made the date when we celebrate Our Lady of Walsingham. Blessed Mary, who appeared to Richeldis the Fair and promised your aid to those who seek it, restore the Church in England and her children abroad, your Dowry, and purge your Son’s Universal Church of every contamination. Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us!

UPDATE: A reader, Jeff Hirst of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (UK), writes to fill in details of the recent history of the Anglican and Catholic Shrines that have attracted so much devotion of late:

“Here in the UK the Shrine at Walsingham is a major pat of our Patrimony, and many – if not most – members of the Ordinariate have a great love of Walsingham through our visits to the Anglican Shrine. As well as the restoration of the Catholic National Shrine we remember the revival of devotion in the Church of England. Fr Alfred Hope Patten, the vicar of Walsingham, set up an image of Our Lady of Walsingham in St Mary’s Parish Church in 1922. The copy of the Holy House was built in 1931 and the Image transferred, and the Shrine church was completed in 1936. Under his influence pilgrimage grew, not without opposition, and annual pilgrimages became a much-loved annual ritual amongst Anglo-Catholics. Even as Catholics, the emotional pull to the Anglican Shrine remains strong. At 5.30pm today [September 24th, 2018], Our Lady’s solemnity, the directors of both shrines are to sign an ecumenical covenant. We pray for both Shrines and give thanks for what it means to us in these lands.”

Thanks so much, Mr. Hirst!

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For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive our This Week in English Catholic History articles in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <foster1452@gmail.com>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, (C) 2018.

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John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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