Friends of Walsingham Occasional Paper
Letter from the Revd The Administrator
My dear Friends
When I last wrote to you I was still living in Oxford and now it seems as if that was a whole lifetime ago. I am so constantly asked “Do you miss Oxford?” and it is rather hard to answer. In some ways it is like a very close bereavement and one does not want to think about it too much because it hurts, on the other hand I don’t sit gazing into space and constantly sighing “Oh to be in Oxford!” and often as I get up in the mornings and see the sun gleaming on the golden figure of Our Lady on top of the Shrine Church I think “the lot has fallen unto me in a fair ground”. The constant comings and goings make it a little like living on a Railway Station, but my cottage in the College is a real little “Shrine View” and very comfortable and quiet – except when the planes go over! All the time we are enrolling more friends and you are now becoming a considerable body. I am sure the way to grow is for each friend to try and enlist someone else, in fact some have already been so active in this direction that I want to encourage as many of you as possible to become Pillars. A Pillar is a friend who has enrolled the Apostolic number of Twelve Other Friends – at Twenty-five he or she becomes a Silver Pillar, at Fifty a Golden Pillar and if anyone gets to a hundred they will be an Almug Tree (see 1 Kings 10, 12). In each case you will be sent an appropriate certificate of appointment. This may sound a little junior, but I am more and more conscious of the pillar quality of the Friends – Fr Patten has left us with a wonderful legacy of buildings, but what is urgently needed is the financial support to maintain and staff them properly. What we need badly are one or two people who will feel that they are called to make Walsingham as England’s Natural Shrine of Our Lady the main object of their benefaction and either through their will or by covenanting a substantial sum over a number of years to build up a sufficient capital sum to enable more priests to be maintained here and extend the work. I know there are endless worthy causes crying out for support and one is sometimes filled with a sense of frustration at one’s limited means, but do please consider whether God is not putting into your heart a call to be one of the main benefactors of this exciting venture of restoration. We have eighteen chapels (counting the Holy House and the Orthodox Chapel) in the Pilgrimage Church and only one of these (St Joseph) is at all adequately endowed. At the moment there can only be a weekly Mass for the Donor’s Intentions in St Joseph’s Chapel, but even so it is a wonderful think to have been able to endow. If you are prepared to fix a sum in your Will sufficient to go towards the stipend of a priest or begin now by annual payments to build up such a sum attached to a particular Chapel this is something which will last as long as the Shrine stands and it will be the most living and perfect memorial that I can think of. I mention this because in recent years I have witnessed people I know die and their estate really squandered to little purpose while I am sure if they had thought of it they would much rather have done one big and lasting thing. If you want information about this write to me and if necessary we can send you a Will Form with the right wording.
There is so much to write about my impressions of life here that it is difficult to know where to begin. Of course I arrived when the pilgrim season was in full swing so I have only seen one side of the work. Fr Roe, the new vicar, arrived soon after me and already we are finding the splitting of Shrine and Parish works perfectly well and we each have plenty to occupy us in our own spheres without treading on each other’s toes, but we are able to help each other as needed; for the times of worship at the Parish Church and the Shrine have developed so that they do not conflict. The Sisters at the Priory are a great tower of strength and the background of devotion which they maintain in their Chapel is a help to us all. As the work develops it is essential that they grow in numbers and so we are hoping and praying for vocations and I hope the “Friends” will pray as well and use any opportunity they can to bring the needs of this vigorous little Community before those who they think may possible have a call from God to give themselves entirely to His service. As far as the College is concerned we are also hoping that God may put it into the hearts and minds of one or two suitable people to join us. At Michaelmas Mr Derek Hooper will be ordained to the Diaconate and come here to work and we hope then that the Chapter of Nashdom Abbey will recognise us officially as a House of Benedictine Oblates. In this connection I must add that anyone who wishes to join us must feel quite sure in their mind that they wish to embrace the Oblate Life and not just accept it as a means of being able to work at Walsingham. At the moment we have living in the College two retired priests and one retired layman so we are already a little community. I cannot speak too highly of the work done as the Shrine Office and don’t know how I could manage without sending most of my problems up to them. Miss Chadwick, amongst so many things that she does, is dealing with the needs and queries of our Friends and Members of the Society in America, so you may care to note that and address correspondence direct to her.
After Easter next year I am to go to America for the tenth annual pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Sheboygan and also I shall have a chance of touring some of that vast country and trying to arouse interest in the Shrine.
1961 is the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Shrine and we must try and make it a great landmark. I hope, amongst other things, that we may have a big overseas Pilgrimage that year, and I think we ought to arrange a pilgrimage from England’s Nazareth to the Holy Land. One of the major operations at the moment is the reorganization of the library. If I had realised quite what it involved I confess that I should not have rushed into it so blithely. But something had to be done as the books were suffering from damp and overflowing the shelves. We have had them all out, repainted the room and every book has been cleaned with polish to banish the musty smell. Now comes the terrible job of resorting. There is a lot of very old-fashioned stuff and some which the damp has damaged beyond repair. I am hoping that we may be able to build up the sections on Marian Theology, Pilgrimage and perhaps the Religious Life so that it can be of use to visitors to the Shrine. All this will take time, but I do appeal for books, particularly on these subjects – it would be best to send the titles of books in case we already have them and they would be wasted, for we are having to clear out several works with which we are overstocked. Also we should be grateful for your specialised knowledge about books we ought to try and acquire if we are to try and get everything on Our Lady and the subject of pilgrimage so that if you know any out-of-date-way thing which would be helpful please let me know. There are a lot of people all ready to go to work on kneelers, but we have had a terrible job getting suitable designs and although we now have canvas, wools, etc., we are still trying to work out amounts needed – however you will be hearing more soon.
The time runs along so fast and there are so many things waiting to be done that I could wish the days were twice as long. I am very conscious of the great support of prayer which I have and I do thank you all most sincerely.
We can now take orders for making vestments and altar linen and we can do it, I think I can say, far cheaper than most places which do this work, so you might bear this in mind when you are wanting any of these things. Above all things the work of prayer and intercession goes on and not only bodily healing is granted, but wonderful healings and conversions of Soul. It is exciting to be close to the great miracles of grace which God works in this place through Our Lady’s prayers.
I am hoping that this Paper will go out to all members of the Society as well as Friends and that soon we shall be producing Our Lady’s Mirror as a regular Review which I hope you will support. I keep having to apologise for not getting things done quicker, but I can assure you that the day to day administration takes such a time that other things have to wait in a queue. I should like to record very grateful thanks to Mr Lawrence Turner, who has been Chairman of the Appeal Committee and who has been forced to resign owing to ill health. We do owe him a great debt and I fear his great kindness to us has been one of the ways in which he has overstrained himself and so we wish him a speedy recovery, and look forward to having once again the advantage of his help in our enterprise. This letter is already too long and so I wish you every blessing and send greetings from England’s Nazareth.
A day which will linger long in the memories of Walsingham pilgrims was last Whit Monday when over five thousand men, women and children journeyed from all parts of the country by coach, train, car, bicycle, as well as on foot, to honour Our Lady in the place of Her choosing, and to give thanks for the blessings of the hundred years work of the Church Union.
From 5 am until midday the Holy Sacrifice was offered at the various altars in the Shrine Church, and for a period of about three hours on end a priest administered Holy Communion from the tabernacle to pilgrims who arrived before the great High Mass.
The image of Our Lady of Walsingham, vested with cope and crown, and guarded by Guardians of the Holy House in their blue mantles, was brought on a litter into the Priory grounds and placed behind the High Altar beneath a canopy especially erected within the ruins of the great Priory Church. There the five thousand pilgrims worshipped in the central act of pleading the Holy Sacrifice on the same spot where our forefathers had done so down the centuries, until the dark days of the 16th century brought havoc to this holy place.
After the High Mass in the presence of the Bishop of Thetford representing the Diocesan Bishop, there followed Our Lady’s hymn of the Magnificat sung solemnly, and the new administrator, Father Colin Stephenson, preached.
Then set off the great procession of witnesses through the lanes and streets of Walsingham bearing aloft the glorious Image back to her niche in the Holy House while the thousands sang the Walsingham hymn telling the story of this chosen village with the recurring salutation of Ave, Ave, Ave Maria.
Only a small number of pilgrims could get into the Shrine Church for Benediction. The Most Holy was afterwards brought outside for Benediction to be given to the thousands gathered in the courtyard and in the roads. The pilgrims later poured into the Holy House and to other parts of the Shrine Church to make their own private devotions before setting off again on their homeward path.
What a wonderful day and how strongly do we realise the meaning of the statement that “England is Our Lady’s Dowry”. How thankful do we feel for the life and work of him who refounded the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Father Hope Patten of blessed memory.
I have been taken to task by the Director of Inter-Church Travel for my remarks in the last Occasional Paper, which he says do not represent either his own attitude to the Shrine or, as far as he knows, that of any other member of his staff. He writes that as long as he has known about Walsingham he has always regarded it as a Holy Place and they are only too happy to arrange travel facilities for pilgrims. I am happy to apologise for misrepresenting him and I hope that you will make use of their agency when you are planning this and other pilgrimages.
Perhaps the greatest alteration in recent years has been the new altar and reredos in the Holy House, which was in place by Whitsun although it is not yet quite complete. The old hangings which were put up in 1931 as a temporary arrangement had given long and worthy service, and those who have known the Shrine a long time are bound to feel sad at the change. However the new design is by the most distinguished living Church architect, Sir Ninian Comper, and the fact that it had all been planned by Fr Patten and has as far as possible been carried out according to his expressed wishes has given it a special merit to those who were devoted to him and appreciate his particular flair for contriving impressive and devotional atmosphere. As artistic objects, the reredos, frontal and tester are magnificent and a worthy adornment and setting for Our Lady’s venerated image. The Crucifix and candlesticks have been given and inscribed as a memorial to Fr Patten, although he had himself seen and approved their design.
Another addition to the Shrine is the painting of the Chapel of the Scourging with murals by Enid Chadwick. There is much work by the hand of this gifted artist in the Shrine, but I think this new decoration will be voted amongst her best. The design shows St Wilfrid and St Cuthbert with details from their lives, worked into a continuous pattern with various touches such as the formal treatment of water which remind one of Byzantine paintings. Nature-lovers will particularly appreciate the otters which are coming to the seated St Cuthbert, while the figure of St Wilfrid, combining movement with a great sense of hierarchical dignity, is one of the happiest things Miss Chadwick has done. Over all this is a series of angels, and “The Holy Angels” are now added to the patronage of this chapel, which is the Milner Chantry.
Well over fifty years ago, while staying in a house in Norfolk, I was taken by my host to see some of the finest churches in that county; to Knapton and Trunch, Cawston and Sall, Blakeney and Cley, Ranworth, Wymondham and many others, including Walsingham. Little did I think then how closely I should become associated with Walsingham or what effect it would have on my spiritual life.
I remember the church distinctly, tidy, well cared for, obviously influenced by the Oxford Movement, as were some of the others I have mentioned, while others, with their mediæval treasures of painted screen, fonts and covers were in a deplorable state of neglect.
Walsingham, even then, had an atmosphere of its own, a “something” you did not get at Wymondham, Binham or Castleacre. It stood out in my mind from then onward, as a place apart, unforgettable – was it the saturation of prayer which had gone on here for 500 years from countless pilgrims?
I went there again, and again a third time. There was the same strange atmosphere of peace on entering the Vale of Stiffkey – Walsingham was not dead but asleep, waiting, expectant.
My next link with Walsingham, unknown to me at the time, took place in quite a different way in quite another place. In 1916, while on sick leave as a result of war service in Gallipoli, I happened one Sunday to go to Mass at St Alban’s, Teddington. A young priest got up into the pulpit and preached a quite outstanding sermon. But it was not till 1923, having heard that wonderful things were going on at Walsingham, that I had the opportunity of going to Mass there one Sunday. To my surprise the same young priest, whom I had heard and remembered so well at Teddington, mounted the pulpit and I discovered that he was the new Vicar of Walsingham, Father Hope Patten.
The image of “Our Lady of Walsingham” now stood in the Guild Chapel, against the pillar, looking out towards the ruined Priory and where had stood “the Holy House” – lamps burned around the image and votive candles. An altar stood in front of the tomb. Our Lady of Walsingham had come back to Walsingham. Walsingham had awakened from her sleep of 350 years.
From that time on, circumstances made it necessary for me to spend more and more of my life in East Anglia, right on till the end of the second world war, with the result that I was able to visit Walsingham frequently, occasionally on Sundays, more often to the mid-week pilgrimages, centred then around the parish church and the twin wells in the Priory grounds, staying in the village inns or cottages. For at that time there was no hospice, and no shrine church. But as pilgrimages grew in frequency and in numbers of pilgrims, the first necessity was the conversion in 1927 of three cottages into a pilgrims’ hostel, “Our Lady, Star of the Sea”, and it became evident that the Parish Church could not remain the permanent centre for pilgrimages.
About that time I remember vividly walking with Father Patten down from the Common Place past the new hospice towards Knights Street, and his saying to me, pointing to ground bounded by the Norwich Road and Knights Street, “That is where I want to build the Holy House”.
What strange intuition had led him to choose that place? For when the land had been bought and excavations begun for the foundations, there came to light the cobbled yard, a large cube of stone with central socket, evidently the base of a Calvary, the mediæval well, all fully described in the new edition of England’s Nazareth.
And so it has been my privilege to have seen Walsingham asleep and Walsingham alive and very much alive. To have been present at the translation of Our Lady’s image from Parish Church to Her Holy House, to have seen her carried this year once again through the street of Walsingham to the Priory ruins for Mass and back to the Holy House: to have seen the growth of all the new buildings, the Shrine Church, the hospice, the conversion of condemned cottages into the College building, the refectory converted from a barn to its present use, the laying out of the garden with its growth of trees, flowering shrubs and flowers, the extension of the hospice, the convent and chapel of the Sisters (to whom we owe so much), all this inspired and often designed even to smallest details by Father Patten himself.
But for me the far greater privilege has been the growth, through that great priest, of my interior spiritual life, the full realisation of the Catholic religion, the use of pilgrimage to see Our Lady’s help.
So it seems only right that I should end with a very personal note of testimony to what I learnt from him.
At a time of great anxiety, because a leading oculist had warned me that the condition of my wife’s eyes was very serious and might lead to total blindness, unknown to her and all whom it concerned, I made a day’s pilgrimage to Walsingham to seek Our Lady’s intercession.
Six weeks later we returned to the oculist. Meantime my wife had been kept in total darkness. I remember vividly the oculist’s astoundment at her condition – his words were to the effect that her complaint, even if cured would always leave a scar on the retina of the eye, that there had been every symptom of the illness when he previously saw her, that now there was no such scar and that he was completely mystified.
“Our Lady of Walsingham we thank you”.
N [Lord Norton]
Perhaps the emphasis this year has been on youth. Many young people, both lads and lasses, have been staying at the Hospice besides those who have come with their parish pilgrimages. Some weekends have been crowded out with pilgrims and we have heard rumours that our refectory and kitchen accommodation will somehow have to be enlarged.