Walsingham's healing ministry

and St Joseph's Wing

Although not its main purpose, the ministry of healing has always been a constituent part of Walsingham pilgrimage. Surviving medieval writings, like the Pynson Ballad and Erasmus's description of his visit, speak of the expectation of cures. We know that rich and poor alike came to seek Our Lady's intercession for healing of specific ailments, although the names of only the important families appear in the scanty records of the time. Among them were many English monarchs and their wives, Cardinal Wolsey, and generations of the local Paston family. From the very beginning of Fr Patten’s restoration in 1922 the pilgrimages included visits to the wells for healing prayers, as enshrined in the very first Pilgrims' Manual. Before the Holy House was built in 1931, revealing and using its ancient well, every pilgrimage incorporated a visit to the medieval wells in the Abbey grounds: this had to be on Wednesday afternoons, the only time in the week that the Abbey grounds were open to the public. There at what were then called the "bathing pools" pilgrims drank the waters and sufferers were "bathed" - not immersion, but more like our present Sprinkling. Many small plaques at the west end of the Shrine church testify to early pilgrims' thankfulness for healing received. Even during the war when pilgrimages were few, the healing aspect of the Shrine's ministry never ceased, the intercessions continued, and the Shrine's own well has always been available daily for Sprinkling. This much was an integral part of the whole Walsingham experience, but over the years the Guardians grew concerned that not enough was being done for those with special needs: "We need to show the sick and handicapped a real welcome and to create an atmosphere where Walsingham is a place of refreshment and hope." This led to the first dedicated "Pilgrimage for the Sick" on 3 July 1982 (held annually ever since). It was intended as "an act of devotion for the sick and all those concerned with their welfare". After a Mass at the Halifax Altar in the Shrine gardens there was Sprinkling, individual counselling, and Anointing. Soon after this it was decided to build accommodation specifically for disabled pilgrims. The site was blessed by Bishop Anselm Genders CR on 16 December 1984 and the first earth turned by Mrs Nancy Thomson, the wife of Fr Cyril Thomson, Chantry Priest at that time. The completed St Joseph's Wing was opened on 4 October 1985 by the Duchess of Kent. From 2003 the pilgrimage has been called the "Pilgrimage for Healing and Renewal", and remains one of the major pilgrimages of the Shrine's year. top of page