the seal of the medieval priory
Whit Monday Pilgrimages
(The National)
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how the Whit Monday pilgrimages were recorded in Our Lady's Mirror
Until 1973 the Pilgrimage was held in the Shrine grounds. Increasing numbers encouraged the move to the Abbey grounds in 1974, but at the time the Guardians were clearly apprehensive about the pilgrims' reaction. "The decision to transfer ... has been made after much thought. The change is, necessarily, experimental, and if there is a storm of protest we can easily revert to the Shrine grounds another year." (Walsingham Review March 1974)

Q: Why was the late May Bank Holiday chosen as the weekend of the National Pilgrimage, and why is it called the 'National'?
The weekend chose itself in that it is the anniversary of the blessing of the new Pilgrimage Church (the core of what we know today). The Holy House and its covering outer chapel were completed in 1931, and the new nave and chapels were blessed by Bishop O'Rorke in the presence of a large crowd of pilgrims on Whit Monday, June 6th, 1938. After that the great 'National'**, as it came later to be known, was held annually on Whit Monday. When in 1971 the 'late May Bank Holiday' was fixed on the last Monday in May, which does not necessarily coincide with Whitsuntide, the National's date then had to be attached to the secular holiday. It has been held at that time every year except in 2001, when it had to be cancelled because of the Foot & Mouth crisis, and in 2002 when it was moved to the first weekend in June. This was in line with all national May Bank Holiday events that year which were transferred so that people could have two consecutive holiday days, the second being given to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations. The pilgrimage was also transferred in 1982 so as not to conflict with the Pope's visit to England, and was held on August Bank Holiday, August 30th.

** The use of the word 'National' started in 1959, the centenary of the Church Union, when the Master (later Earl) of Lauderdale, then President of the Church Union and also a Guardian, wrote to the Church Times urging people to join a pilgrimage on Whit Monday 1959 which he described as the "first National Pilgrimage in the history of the Church of England to the Shrine of the Incarnation at Walsingham." The 'Centenary Pilgrimage' in 1933, to celebrate the centenary of the Oxford Movement, was advertised at the time as a National Pilgrimage with that specific intention, but that was well before the idea of annual pilgrimages for all was thought of.

The Brighton Sea Cadets have been forming the honour Guard for Our Lady of Walsingham for twenty-six years

1938 The first Whit Monday celebration: Summer Number 1938
1939 "The Whit Monday pilgrimage was a very happy event. About twelve hundred people, besides private pilgrims and trippers, visited the Holy House. As we have said before, we trust this will become an annual event."
1940 Second anniversary: Spring Number 1940
1941 not mentioned
1942 not mentioned
1943 "Several small pilgrimages have been made to the Holy House this Summer, but the number of pilgrims has been very small, so many would-be “palmers” being occupied in war work, and those who could visit the Shrine seem to fear the long journey."
1944 "The [wartime travel] ban, unfortunately, has made it necessary for all pilgrimages planned for this summer to be cancelled, with the exception of those small local ones within the zone."
1945 "Small pilgrimages are being made to the Holy House by lay folk led by their priests, but transport is still difficult. "
1946 "What a day we had for the Whit Monday Pilgrimage! A large pilgrimage came to the Holy House. The programme was carried through with the exception of the procession, which had been planned; this could not be held owing to the deluge, for the rain simply teemed down practically all day. Half the mud of Walsingham seemed to be carted into the Church, while the garden paths were churned up into mire tracks. Father Harry Howard, like the zealot that he is, hurried down on Whit-Sunday night from Bradford in order to deliver his oration to us, and we are all grateful to him."
1947 " The Whit Monday Pilgrimage was as crowded as usual and we were pleased to have the Bishop of the Windward Islands with us, and he preached both on Whit Sunday and the evening before. On the Monday, Canon Wakefield gave the oration."
1948 "On Whit Monday the much talked of Pilgrimage of Reparation for the South Indian Schism came to the Shrine, it being made up of groups from all parts of the country. The pilgrimage was very well attended, and the Sanctuary was packed almost to its limits (standing room only), and there was a second Mass in the piscena garden at the same time as the one in the Church. We were fortunate in have a gloriously sunny day. Father Howard gave the oration. The procession, which went right through and round the village, concluding with Benediction."
1949 "The Whit-Monday Pilgrimage – This seems to be assuming importance as an annual event. Coaches can be booked to start from Churches in the London area by writing to the Shrine Office. The cost is £1.1s. per person if a 32-seater bus is taken. Why not organise a contingent from your parish? If you live in the provinces it will be necessary for you to charter a bus from some local firm; all you then need is a pilgrimage badge (price 1/6) for each pilgrim. A buffet lunch will be provide for those who book beforehand, at 2/- each, and tea at 1/3. The preacher is to be Father Colin Gill, of St. Martin’s, Brighton." There was no mention after the event.
1950 "We were favoured with glorious weather for the annual Whit-Monday pilgrimage. Over a thousand lay people with a very large proportion of men and fifty or more Priests came to the Holy House on that day, and by the way sang splendidly. Canon Wakefield of Hunstanton delivered the Oration. Bishop Irine, Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes and other members of the Orthodox Church assisted."
to see the programme, click here

"On Whit-Monday about 1,000 pilgrims visited the Holy House, and still the Pilgrimage Church had plenty of space to spare. High Mass was sung by Father Lingwood, with Fr. Bales as Deacon and Fr. Smith, Sub-deacon; among the pilgrims was the Archimandite Nicholas Gibbes and Fr. Dalby, S.S.J.E., while buses came from places as far apart as Nottingham, Bradford, Grimsby, London and Norwich. Father Roger Wodehouse, of S. Thomas’, Shepherds Bush, one of the Guardians of the Shrine, delivered the oration in the afternoon, which was followed by the annual procession through the village via the Common Place, High Street, Market Place and back by the High Street.On returning to the Shrine, Solemn Benediction was given. The pilgrims from Bradford stayed over until Tuesday. We are very grateful to the men of the Catholic League and others who helped us so much in carrying banners and collecting, etc. Our usual faithful and reliable band of helpers under the able direction of William [Frary] (whom we all know) was as efficient as ever and is much to be commended."

1952 "At the Whit Monday Pilgrimage Bishop Vernon, Assistant Bishop of Peterborough and one of our Guardians, presided at the annual procession through the village."
1953 "There were over a thousand at the Shrine and not only five hundred, as the Church Times reported, for the Whit Monday pilgrimage, when Bishop Vernon presided at the procession through the village, and gave Benediction. We were delighted to welcome our old friends, Dr. Najdanovic and Madame again. Father Najdanovic, as our readers know, was the Orthodox priest in charge of their chapel here about two years ago."
1954 not mentioned, except for this reference: "It is always difficult for any organisation to be responsible for the behaviour of their people especially when they come in great crowds, and this year Walsingham is flooded with pilgrims and visitors in large numbers. Over Whit week some unforgivable vandalism was committed in st Mary's. Our ancient and renowned font was badly scratched and pieces broken off, and the base kicked by members of a pilgrimage group."
1955 not mentioned
1956 "The Whit Monday pilgrimage was very well attended and the Pilgrimage Church was full. Some new method of ventilating the building will have to be devised, as it does get so very hot."
1957 "NOTICE – As stated before, after the Jubilee celebration of the Holy House in October last the wish was forcibly expressed that we should observe a year of Jubilee, with a great and final day to be observed on Whit Monday, so enabling those to attend who could not come in October. Therefore we are making arrangements for June 9-10, and it is essential for those intending to bring pilgrims on those days to book at once, where possible, especially those who prefer spending the nights of Sunday and Monday, as even with our additions to the Hospice rooms are still limited." The long description can be read by clicking here.


The death of Fr Patten on August 11th 1958 meant that there was no mention of the Whit Monday pilgrimage in OLM that year.

From 1959 the annual pilgrimage came to be known as the National, as explained above.

(the last issue)

"Probably by the time this is published the great National Pilgrimage at Whitsun will be over and the Church Union will have started on its second century in fine style."
to see the programme, click here

list of dates, celebrants, preachers and intentions 1959-2013

scanned early programmes in full:
1965: The Bishop of Southwark was the first diocesan bishop to preach
1967: the first year of General Communion and of Concelebration
2004: the shape of the pilgrimage programme changed, starting with the Mass at noon,
then a break for lunch, followed by the Sermon, Procession and Benediction

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