A Personal Pilgrimage

My first visit to Walsingham took place in the August of 1922. I was engaged to be married, and my future husband and I decided, as he had recently purchased his first car, that we would have a motoring holiday. He knew Norfolk reasonably well and so we drove to Norwich. While there we heard that great things were going on at the village of Walsingham and we decided to drive over and see what it was all about. We arrived in the village and went at once to the Parish Church, and this I look back on as one of the greatest spiritual moments of my life. When we left Norwich that morning I had no idea that the events of this beautiful sunny day in August would influence me for the rest of my life.
The writer was born in 1895 and died in 1973. In later life she wrote a series of reminiscences of her pilgrimages to Walsingham, of which this is part. She stayed devoted to the Shrine for the rest of her life, and many features and fittings of the Shrine Church were given by her and by members of her family, some of whom still visit the Shrine regularly.
We went into the Parish Church and gazed around. The first impression was that the Catholic faith was being taught here. We wandered round and then I went into the Guild's Chapel and hurriedly called my fiancé: Our Lady of Walsingham was enshrined here for all to see. The statue, without decoration of any type, just some flowers and candles, was enshrined against a pillar on the epistle side of the chapel. We both knelt and together said the five glorious mysteries of the holy rosary. A priest entered the church and we later spoke to him. With great faith he told us of the restoration, just a few weeks before in July, of Our Lady of Walsingham. This priest was the Vicar of the Parish, and so it was that we first met Father Hope Patten. In 1923 or 1924 I heard that pilgrimages were being arranged to Walsingham starting from the church of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, and so I went over to find out about this. So it was that I first met Father Fynes- Clinton who became my confessor from that time until he died in 1959. How different were the pilgrimages of those days, by old bumpy coaches, or sometimes by train, and how we prayed on those pilgrimages, with dear Father Fynes-Clinton instructing us to say the De Profundis as we went under bridges or through railway tunnels; the rosary being said or sung, and so often a stop at some church or another and hymns being sung including that old favourite 'Faith of our Fathers'. The excitement of those days, in my opinion, has never been recaptured. When we arrived at Walsingham we were put up at the newly opened Hospice of Our Lady Star of the Sea, or put up in the village. How well I remember cold water to wash in and the lavatory at the bottom of the garden! On the way there you were just as likely to be barked at by the family dog or fall over the mud path, and when you arrived you fumbled around in the dark. I remember searching in the dark for a chain to flush, only to find out that it was not that sort of lavatory, and running water was almost unheard of! The first evening we had solemn vespers in the Parish Church with the candles gleaming in the darkness of the church and incense wreathing its way to the high roof. After this would be confession, and in those days it was indeed part of the pilgrimage and one didn't escape, especially with Father Fynes-Clinton with us! Then we would have a procession, small when you think of the processions of the last few years, but the faith and fervour of those days was a wonder to behold. The following morning, we would have High Mass, celebrated I seem to remember at 8 a.m. Then breakfast followed by Stations of the Cross and after this we often went to the Slipper Chapel where prayers for reunion were said. In those days the Roman Shrine had not been restored and the Slipper Chapel, as far as I can remember, was not often in use, although it did belong to the Holy See. It was not until 1934 that the Romans set up a statue and it became their shrine of Our Lady. In the afternoon we would go, after devotions in the Parish Church, to the ruins of the priory where we would drink the waters from the twin wells. The pilgrimage always had to be arranged so that the second day was Wednesday, as this was the open day at Walsingham Abbey and we entered with ordinary visitors - believe me, this was not always conducive to devotion! In the evening we had vespers and a procession, to the Walsingham Pilgrim’s Hymn. I remember when we first sung this hymn, the joy and pleasure in the medieval phrasing which has been lost to some extent as, since Father Hope Patten's death, the words have been altered. We would then have Benediction and very often many of us would stay on to say privately the Rosary or to offer our special intentions. The following morning we would go to early Mass and make our Communions and then I think at 10 a.m., the High Mass of Thanksgiving was sung and so we would start home. During the 1920s I made several pilgrimages to the shrine, not as many as I would have liked, as I had married [not to the fiancé mentioned above] and we were living in the north. My first three children were born and were baptised in the church of St Jude in Liverpool; it was while living in Liverpool that I got to know Father Underhill, a great champion of the catholic cause and Vicar of St Thomas, Liverpool. Father Underhill was a great supporter of anything to do with Walsingham and the shrine. top of page 1931 Then my husband died. Later I met again my first fiancé, with whom I had visited Walsingham years before, and we married. So much had happened since that first visit to Walsingham, when we had been engaged, that upon our return from honeymoon in Italy we motored up to Walsingham and stayed at the ‘Black Lion’ for the weekend. We were told that a site had been given in the village and that a reconstruction of the Holy House with a covering chapel was to be built. How excited we were and immediately walked down to see the site. It was in October 1931 that the Holy House and shrine were ready for occupation: the shrine would also contain the Holy Well. No longer would we enter the Abbey grounds and partake of water from the twin wells. The story of this and the remarkable discovery of the original foundations can be read in many of the books on Walsingham. My husband and I decided to spend the whole week in Walsingham and thus cover all the ceremonies that would take place. How well I remember Bishop O’ Rorke blessing and baptising the bells and dedicating each one to a particular saint. We had with us my three children, my sister and my mother-in-law. My father-in-law drove up just for the day of the Translation. Shortly after the bells had been blessed my eldest son gathered all our rosaries together and touched them on each of the bells. On October the 15th, now kept as the Feast of the Translation of Our Lady of Walsingham, early in the morning, the new Holy House and Chapel were blessed with Holy Water inside and out. Only a few of us attended this ceremony. The morning was cold, and mist still lay on the ground, but the weather started to clear and by the time of the High Mass in the Parish Church it had become a sunny autumn day. The first mass of the day was celebrated after the blessing and the deeds were handed over, being held during the mass by Father Fynes-Clinton. Bishop O'Rorke celebrated a pontifical High Mass in the Parish Church later that morning and the moving sermon was preached by Father Underhill, that champion of the catholic cause, that I had come to know while in Liverpool. In the afternoon the Parish Church was crowded as I had never seen it before and Father Baverstock preached. Although I had only briefly been introduced to Father Baverstock, I knew his name well as we had all read the numerous books that he had written. This was followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and then the procession formed up to ‘translate’ Our Lady to the new shrine. How proud I was to see both my sons serving on this momentous occasion, looking like little angels. How busy they had been during the past week, serving mass and benediction, saying their prayers and also getting under everybody's feet. Over one thousand people were present and formed into the procession, many of them wearing the veil of the Catholic League. Our Lady, who was robed and crowned, under her canopy looked simply stupendous. All of us had lighted candles in our hands and the scene could well have been on the continent, so reminiscent was it of the pilgrimages we had taken part in in Italy. Our Lady's Hymn was sung and the streets were decorated with banners, flowers and greenery. When we reached the new shrine Our Lady was enthroned and we all sang the Te Deum, it could be heard miles away. In the photographs that were taken on that day I can be seen in the right hand corner, standing next to my sister, both of us wearing cloche hats. My husband was on the other side of me and just out of the picture was also my mother-in-law. We filed through the Holy House and partook of water from the well. The following day when the crowds had gone we spent over an hour in the Holy House, a most wonderful experience, even to this day. top of page 1938 It was 1936 that an anonymous gift allowed the work to begin, in 1937, of the pilgrimage church, the church and campanile, with the fifteen altars dedicated to the mysteries of the holy rosary. This work was finished in 1938. During the work the most wonderful discoveries had been made: these foundations can be seen beneath the pilgrimage church. It is very rare these days to hear of people visiting them. In the days of Father Hope Patten it was a normal thing; he was always so keen for people to see them. We arrived in Walsingham late in the evening and a great welcome was given to us by Father Hope Patten and the sisters. As far as I can remember, it was the Horbury Sisters who were at the shrine in those days. The new Shrine church was wonderful and reminded us of churches in Italy, especially with the campanile piercing the sky. One is used to this now but in the June of 1938 it was indeed very new. The formal ceremonies took place on the Whit-Monday and this has always been kept as the day of the National Pilgrimage. On the Sunday Bishop O’Rorke preached at the High Mass - such a moving sermon, many of us had tears in our eyes, especially when we contemplated all that had been accomplished, and in such a short time. At Evensong the same day a number of Orthodox Prelates arrived, and that evening little cards of icons were distributed and we had them signed by Archbishop Nestor. The following day - the Whit-Monday - an air of great excitement pervaded the whole village, which was decorated with banners, bunting and greenery. At 12 noon the angelus bell rang out from the parish church and the procession set forth - Priests, monks, nuns, scouts, the the 1938 processionOrthodox, the College of Guardians, Bishop O’Rorke and several thousand pilgrims. Many of the ladies wore veils in blue, the Society of Mary, and white, the Catholic League. The shrine church was blessed inside and out and we all sang hymns and the rosary, “Faith of Our Fathers” was bellowed forth with all the fervour that we could muster. We were English Catholics, the spiritual children of St. Augustine and Pope Gregory, we were the ancient catholic church of this land and all would know it - “Faith of Our Fathers - Living Still”. The shrine was almost complete, the Orthodox Chapel was to be built later, and we have since seen many more additions. The dim light and the gleaming candles and vestments made a great impact upon us all. How difficult it is to put into words the feelings of that day! When I sit back and think about it all, it flashes upon the memory and the old feelings are stirred up within me. The following day, the Tuesday, masses were said at all the altars; for hours priests were celebrating one after the other. It was in 1948 that we started, as a family, to spend several weeks in Walsingham during the summer months. So the years have gone, and what a lot I have to thank Walsingham for. Father Hope Patten died in 1958 and many changes have been made since his death. Nothing, however, can ever alter the marvel of Walsingham and the tremendous strength that can always be gained from the Holy House. How I thank God for all the priests I met - and what wonderful priests they were, full of faith and fervour - and the friends made, so many now passed to their reward. Walsingham is now known world wide and all of you who will read these words have been on pilgrimage. For those that have passed beyond the veil, that they may have coolness, light and peace, for those still living that they may continue fast in the holy faith - Our Lady of Walsingham - Pray for us. top of page