top of page
  • Writer's picturePhil



England’s Nazareth

Walsingham has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages — one of the four great shrines of medieval Christendom, ranking alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago da Compostella.

The Vision

In 1061 the lady of the manor, Richeldis de Faverches, had a series of visions of the Virgin Mary, who showed her the house in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel made his revelation of the forthcoming birth of Jesus. Our Lady asked Richeldis to build a replica of the holy house in Walsingham. Founded at the time of the Crusades when it was impossible to visit the Holy Land, English Christians were able to visit ‘Nazareth’ in their own country. Walsingham became the premier shrine to Our Lady and around it grew a large monastery.

By 1153 the Augustinian Priory of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was established next to the holy house. And later, around 1347, the Franciscan Friars, under the patronage of Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Clare, established a small friary in the village.

Walsingham was visited by thousands of pilgrims from all over Britain and Europe, including nearly all the kings and queens of England from Henry III (c1226), who really put it on the map with twelve visits. Royal visits continued right up to Henry VIII (1511), who came twice.

Then came the Reformation in 1538. The priory and the friary were dissolved and all property handed over to the King’s Commissioners. The famous statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to London to be publicly burnt. The vandalism of Henry VIII’s troops is shocking to this day, and it is hard to see what he gained by it. Henry was a rather Catholic sort of reformer, his problem was with the Pope, not with the beliefs of the Church. The pilgrimage revival began in the late 19th century, with the first modern pilgrimage taking place on 20th August 1897 to the Slipper Chapel, a mile outside the village in Houghton St Giles. This is now the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady.

In 1921 Fr Alfred Hope Patten was appointed vicar of Walsingham. He was determined to re-establish Walsingham as a shrine to Our Lady and set up a statue of her in the parish church of St Mary. By the early 1930s, Fr Patten had built a new shrine containing a modern Holy House, just outside the Priory walls.

Pilgrimages increased in popularity throughout the 20th century.

Today Walsingham is one of the most significant spiritual places in the country, visited each year by around 350,000 pilgrims of all ages and backgrounds.

Pilgrims to Walsingham have always realised that a true devotion to Our Blessed Lady will lead us to her Son. Every day at Walsingham, pilgrim groups walk in procession along the Holy Mile. They often pray the rosary as they walk and, with Mary, ponder the mysteries of the Lord.

Walsingham is a place soaked in prayer. Sitting quietly in the Shrine Church, in the Holy House or any of the chapels is not only to become conscious of the years of prayer that have been offered there, but to experience this afresh." This is one of the places, as T.S.Eliot wrote in the dark days of 1940, where this is true:

"If you came this way, Taking any route, starting from anywhere, At any time or at any season, It would always be the same: you would have to put off Sense and notion. You are not here to verify, Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity Or carry report. You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more Than an order of words, the conscious occupation Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment Is England and nowhere. Never and always."

"Our Lady,

too small for her canopy, Sits near the altar.

There’s no comeliness At all or charm in that expressionless Face with its heavy eyelids.

As before,

This face, for centuries a memory,

Non est species, neque decor. Expressionless, expresses God:

it goes Past castled Sion.

She knows what God knows,

Not Calvary’s Cross

nor crib at Bethlehem Now,

and the world shall come

to Walsingham."

Robert Lowell,

American 20th century poet.


Grant, we pray, almighty God,

that as in the mystery of the Incarnation

the blessed and ever Virgin Mary conceived Your Son in her heart

before she conceived him in the womb, so we, Your pilgrim people,

rejoicing in her motherly care, may welcome Him into our hearts

and become a holy house fit for His eternal dwelling.

Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

God, for ever and ever.

Lord, you know our beginning and our end.

Help us to realise we are only pilgrims on this earth

and save us from being too attached to worldly possessions.

May we experience the freedom to wander,

the freedom to hope and the freedom to love as we journey.

Eternal God,

give us the courage to set off on pilgrimage.

May we travel unhindered by worldly possessions

simply trusting in you for all that we need.

Sometimes our hearts will be heavy as we plod along

and our feet will ache and feel dirty.

Other times we will rejoice as the sun shines

on the path stretching before us.

May we ponder the truth, that the pilgrim’s journey is never finished

till they reach home.

Lord God, we thank you

for calling us into the company

of those who trust in Christ

and seek to obey his will.

May your Spirit guide and strengthen us

in mission and service to your world;

for we are strangers no longer

but pilgrims together on the way to your Kingdom.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland


"All Along the Watchtower"

Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady, Walsingham

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page