Walsingham, Norfolk

I had organised a meeting in Walsingham for Wednesday 19 September to discuss pilgrimage traffic and the railways. I need to do an MA dissertation, want to do something on railways, tourism and guidebooks, and it has been suggested focussing on Walsingham will be a good idea. We parked outside the old Great Eastern station which is now St Seraphim’s Chapel, Icon and Railway Heritage Museum, and I had a hour’s chat about what could be researched. The station has an icon chapel – website – and there is another website here.

Members of the Orthodox community were part of the 1931 procession when the statue of Mary the Mother of God was translated from the parish church to the Anglican shrine. In 1938 Archbishop Seraphim of Berlin was present when the shrine church was dedicated. In the 1950s Archbishop Nikodem led pilgrimages from London, and he was not alone. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, who I remember coming to Selwyn to preach, led several pilgrimages here.

Originally there was a small Orthodox Chapel at the Anglican shrine, and 1966 when Fr. Mark (later to become Fr. David) and Leon Liddament came to Walsingham as part of the newly formed Brotherhood of St. Seraphim. They soon felt that the local Orthodox needed a larger church, and the old railway station was available. The station was opened in 1857 and closed in 1964. They set about converting the building to its current form, which, as the building was being rented from the council, left it practically the same as the railway days with the addition of an onion dome and cross. The chapel was placed in what had been the Gentlemen’s waiting room and the booking office, and the original fireplace is retained. Since then a monastery has been established in Dunton and a parish church in Great Walsingham, and St Seraphim’s has remained a pilgrim chapel open to all who visit Walsingham. The Trust purchased the station in 2008.

Walking down into the village I passed the signs detailing the major Catholic pilgrimages, and later we went into the Gift Shop to purchase a small crib.

I met the others in the café at the Anglican Shrine – website. I was not in the best frame of mind for a spiritual experience. I think I had had too many churches so far this holiday, I struggle with the rather masculine nature of the priesthood here, and it feels a bit insular. I need to relax and enjoy, stop criticizing, and stop feeling guilty. It is a nice café – but if you pick up the jug of salad cream instead of the jug of milk, don’t expect your tea to taste very nice!

The Chapel of the Guild of All Souls’ was built in 1965 – I like some of the glass.

The main chapel is interesting. I liked the candles – just a few of them required. There’s a little chapel, presumably dedicated to Cuthbert, with his otter in place.

The main church is huge, and I see they feel it necessary to lock God away. The Cenotaph was erected in pious memory of Geoffrey de Clinton, c. 1090, founder of Kenilworth Castle – a place I haven’t been to for years – and of Osbert of Coleshill, his brother. I have driven through Coleshill recently.

The Shrine was found by the Lady Richelis in 1061 – she had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunication. When it was built, the Holy House in Walsingham was panelled with wood and contained a wooden statue of an enthroned Virgin Mary with the child Jesus seated on her lap. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin’s milk. Walsingham became one of northern Europe’s great places of pilgrimage and remained so through most of the Middle Ages. It was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538, and restored in 1922 by Father Hope Patten, the Anglican Vicar of Walsingham. The Holy House was rebuilt in 1931, and a spring was found – I remember our kids helping the nun fill some bottle several decades ago.

As we left the site we looked at the little exhibition, and realised we had missed the Holy House. “At the heart of the Shrine of Our Lady lies the Holy House containing the image of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Holy House itself is contained within the highly-decorated Shrine Church.” Heard the one about the MA student and church blogger who missed the Holy House?

We walked round through the village up to the parish church. St Mary and All Saints’, Little Walsingham – website. There are steps up to the church, but the notice about disabled access directs us to the side. We pushed up the ramp. We got into the porch, and found there is a step in. Try the side door – yes, it’s marked as disabled access. No, it’s locked. I’ll go inside, no, still locked. Is it too much to ask that an open parish church, in a village which is a major pilgrimage centre, should be accessible? (Is it too much to suggest it should have a pile of Norfolk church guides and some literature to get visitors out into other churches nearby?). I took a few quick photos, and went to re-join Julie.

The church was rebuilt after a major fire in 1961. The font is rather special – around the bowl are depicted the Seven Sacraments of the church in the C14, and it seems to have survived the Reformation. One panel shows the crucifixion, and around the stem are figures of the four Latin Doctors of the church and the four evangelists. The reclining figures are of Sir Henry and Lady Sidney who died in 1612 and 1638. The East Window was designed by John Hayward in 1964 – there is a full description of it here.

 

Our final church was the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation on the Friday Market – there are some lovely pictures on this blog. It was built in 2006, designed to be carbon neutral with solar panels on the roof. I like the Julie-friendly pews, and the colours of the font.

So there’s a quick trot around some of the churches of Walsingham. I will come back and do them a bit more thoroughly. If anyone has any suggestions or pointers on railway tourism, you know where I am.

 

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