Feast day: September 24
It was in the year 1061 in Walsingham, England, that Our Lady appeared to a young widow named Richeldis de Faverches. It is said, that she appeared three times in a vision and each time showed to Richeldis the house in which the Holy Family had dwelt in Nazareth.
Mary requested that Richeldis build a replica of this house in Walsingham. To Richeldis, Our Lady said: “Do all this unto my special praise and honor. And all who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made at Walsingham. To all that seek me there shall be given succor. And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me I should through humility become the Mother of God’s Son.”
In the Middle Ages, Walsingham became one of the greatest pilgrimage sites in all of Europe. A church was constructed around the house to protect it from the elements. From Britain, Ireland, and the continent of Europe, people came to the shrine, from all walks of life: peasant, king, rich and poor. Then, in 1538, Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and moved against all religious orders in his domains, confiscated and burned the Holy House of Our Lady of Walsingham. The magnificent priory church adjacent to it fell into ruin so that only a portion of the massive east wall is visible today.
But a wealthy Anglican woman, Charlotte Boyd, in the nineteenth century commenced the restoration of the shrine, just as another wealthy woman had initially endowed it in the eleventh century. For pilgrims traveling from London to Walsingham, the last stopping place had been a chapel about a mile away known as the “Slipper Chapel,” because they left their shoes there before walking barefoot the last mile to the shrine. The small fourteenth century building was used as a barn to house animals prior to Charlotte Boyd’s desire to restore it. Before her plan materialized, she became a Catholic, and in the 1890’s bought the chapel and donated it to Downside Abbey. The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom took care of the restorations, and carved the statue of a standing Virgin and Child was given the place of honor. That statue is now in King’s Lynn.
A century ago, August 20, 1897, a procession of pilgrims from King’s Lynn to the Slipper Chapel marked the renewal of public devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham.
It lay dormant for nearly 400 years, just the monastic ruins remaining as a witness to its former life. In 1922, the parish priest at the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Walsingham, Fr. Hope Patten, caused to have made a statue of Our lady of Walsingham. This statue was placed in the parish church, and at once pilgrims returned once more seeking the blessings of pre-Reformation Walsingham. By 1931 the numbers had become too many for the parish church to cope with and a new shrine church was built, with the Holy House at its center and the image above its altar.
In August 1934, Cardinal Bourne led the Catholic bishops of England and Wales and ten thousand pilgrims to the Slipper Chapel, and from this date it became the official Roman Catholic National Shrine. The four hundredth anniversary of the shrine’s destruction was commemorated in 1938 by a Pilgrimage of Catholic Youth, and in 1948, fourteen oak crosses were set up in the garden. There is a tradition for pilgrims to walk the last mile here barefoot. Many thousands of people have visited the Shrine – some come out of a spiritual need for the atmosphere of peace that seems to emanate from the Chapels, some for aesthetic reasons, whilst others merely stumble across us, nestled away in this secluded Norfolk valley.