The Order of Our Lady of Walsingham
(formerly The Sacred Order of the Living Rosary of Our Lady of Walsingham)
Walking in front of Guardians in National processions or Festivals, around the statue in processions of Our Lady in the Shrine, or visible on 'special occasions' at Walsingham, will be one or more pilgrims wearing the insginia of the Order of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Depending on who is present, the onlooker may well be puzzled by the variety of blue and red ribbons (collarettes), sashes and mozettas, brooches and medals on display; and these must not be confused with the black and white ribbons and stars that Guardians wear, with or without their mantles.
The wearers of the blue and red are members of the Order of Our Lady of Walsingham, whose insignia was created in 1960. When the Order's constitution was changed in 2000 the insignia was much simplified, and therefore it is easy to spot who are senior members and who are the newcomers of the twenty-first century.
The Order's origins go back to when Fr Patten first had the idea of honouring certain of the ladies who had done so much to assist him in all aspects of the restoration of the Shrine, without material reward. He planned to give them a small medal and call them 'Dames of Honour'. Although the date for this is commonly given as 1955 it is incorrect: the first mention in the Guardians' Chapter minutes of a possible honour was in June 1951 and the design for the medal made (as now) by Fattorini was approved in the minutes for December 1952. The first investitures were made in 1953.
Mrs Frida Brackley was next to be elected, in December 1953. The medallion was gilded, having on it in blue enamel a figure of Our Lady of Walsingham. The ladies were to be called Dames of the Shrine, and their medallion has the word DAME above the figure of Our Lady (as in the photograph above).
Fr Patten is known to have wanted to extend a similar honour to priests and laymen, and this is formally mentioned in the Chapter minutes in 1957, but he died before he had carried this out.
Within months of Fr Patten's death his successor as Administrator, Fr Colin Stephenson, was proposing to the Guardians the idea of forming a Living Rosary for the existing Dames and for the priests and laymen to come. Finally in 1960 The Sacred Order of the Living Rosary of Our Lady of Walsingham was founded, probably copied from the Guild of the Living Rosary of Our Lady and St Dominic although this was not referred to at the time.
It was based on the Rosary and was expected to have three members assigned to each of the fifteen Mysteries represented in the fifteen altars in the Shrine Church - each altar could have a priest (Clerk), layman (Lay Clerk) and woman (Dame), making a possible total of forty-five members, which was sometimes attained.
The five ladies first invested by Fr Patten in 1953 became the first members of the new 1960 Order, except for Miss Doyle-Smithe who did not live long enough. The other four, and Mrs Brackley who was elected later in 1953, were allocated the altars of the Glorious Mysteries.
The first Clerks and Lay Clerks were invested on 10 October 1960. Later on they too were given medallions similar to those of the Dames, but with the word CLERK above the figure of Our Lady: these were later withdrawn, but one current Lay Clerk, admitted in 1992, did not send his back and still wears it.
The insignia was designed by Fr W G de Lara Wilson, one of the first Clerks. There are pictures of it in the register completed in 1963 by Enid Chadwick, with the beautifully-calligraphed constitution and a page for each chapel with the names of each member inscribed. Click here to see extracts from the register.
In 2000 the constitution was completely revised and the insignia modernised. Members elected to the Order before 2000 continue to wear the 1960 insignia, but those elected from 2000 onwards wear simply the ribbon and cross, without sash, mozetta or brooch. Members are not now allocated to Mysteries or therefore altars, and the new female members are not called Dames.
Today Mrs Doris Willan MBE is the only surviving Dame, having been elected in 1987 and allocated to the Mystery and altar of the Annunciation. Five Clerks from the old order remain, the earliest being Fr Donald Strachan, elected in 1980 and allocated to the Mystery and altar of the Coming of the Holy Ghost (St Columba chapel). Of the three pre-2000 Lay Clerks, the earliest surviving was elected in 1989 and is also allocated to the Mystery and altar of the Annunciation.
In July 2011 Graham and Maureen Howard were admitted to the Order, becoming the first married couple to be admitted together, and the first to serve simultaneously. Percy and Helen Yabsley were both members, but Percy was elected in 1967 and died in 1980, the year before Helen was appointed.
The Order meets annually in Walsingham for its own Chapter; its current Registrar, appointed in 1997, is Fr Bryan Parry, elected to the Order in 1987. There are now sixty-three members. Any member of the Order who happens to be present at the Shrine during a procession of Our Lady has the privilege of accompanying the image. It is the custom for Clerks to process in front of the image, and Lay Clerks, Dames and Members to process behind it.
The Order retains its purpose of recognising particular service that supports the work and witness of the Shrine, and its members are elected by the Guardians.
Following the revision of the Order, membership of the Living Rosary has been extended, on application, to any member of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The Order was described in Fr John Oldland's article in Walsingham Review no. 72 December 1980.
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