H B Ewart

H B Ewart was a churchwarden at St Mary's, Bourne Street, when he visited Walsingham for the Translation in 1931
Fine autumn weather, the aftermath of a wretched summer, tempted us to start from London a day early for the dedication of the new shrine of our Lady of Walsingham. So, on the morning of October 14th, we set out from London by car, and having successfully negotiated Camden Town, Seven Sisters Road, Holloway, and Finsbury Park, and passed through Epping Forest, glowing with autumn tints, we presently turned aside to admire the glorious Essex church of Thaxted. Thence we made Cambridge just in time for luncheon, and in the early afternoon approached Ely Cathedral rising majestically out of the fens. Of course, we were obliged to halt there and devote some time to the beauty of its architecture. A further good run brought us to Fakenham, and just as dusk was falling we found ourselves entering Walsingham: a village of grey flint houses built round what remains of the ancient Priory of Augustinian Canons. Our first objective was the Church, where we found a friendly nun putting last touches to the decoration of our Lady of Walsingham's statue before it departed tomorrow to its new home. The Lady Chapel looked to us desolate without the gracious figure of the Mother and Child. But on our way from the Church to tea at the hospice of our Lady Star of the Sea, we passed the new shrine and at once saw that would be in every way a worthy resting place. The shrine has been built on a plot of ground belonging to the Hospice. It has in front a semicircular courtyard, paved with cobblestones, and in spite of being in reality quite small, the holy house itself looked tall and imposing against the evening sky. The hour was too late for an inspection that night, so our visit to the interior had to be postponed till next day. Later on, walking through the village, we were struck by the decoration of the streets and houses. Across the principal street hung garlands of evergreens, flags were everywhere in evidence, while even in the cottage windows villagers displayed gay bouquets of autumn flowers. These decorations showed up well against the old grey stone of the square, and the streets that lead to it. Presently a bright little moon added to the beauty of the scene, and lighted us on our way to Blakeney, some eight miles distant, where we were to stay for the night. Next morning, at Walsingham, Masses were said in the Parish Church by several priests staying at the Vicarage as the guests of Father Hope Patten. Autumn mist hung over the country in the early hours, but by eleven o'clock the sun had broken through. The rest of the day was fine, a most important matter considering the length of the route to be taken by the procession from the Church to the Shrine. Half an hour before Pontifical High Mass was timed to begin, the side aisles of the Church were quite full. The choir and several front rows on each side of the nave were reserved for clergy, who, including the contingent from London, numbered about seventy. The rest of the nave had been roped off for those arriving at half past eleven by the special train from London: but even this large number of seats proved inadequate, for the whole space round the splendid old font and back as far as the west door was soon crowded as well. With some difficulty when all were assembled, a way was found for the procession of the officiating Bishop and clergy up the centre of the nave to the sanctuary. Pontifical High Mass followed, with Bishop O'Rorke, formerly of Accra, pontificating, Father Hope Patten and his assistant priest acting as deacon and sub-deacon. After the Creed, an interesting and moving sermon was preached by Father Underhill, who spoke of the many changes he had seen during the long years when he made St Thomas's, Liverpool, a stronghold of the Catholic faith. When the High Mass was over we found ourselves part of a great throng in the churchyard. Here a jarring note was struck by some adherents of Mr Kensit, who had established themselves and their van outside the churchyard gate. However their odd behaviour attracted little or no attention except from a few small boys of the village. We were all intent on making a preliminary visit to the shrine before luncheon, and its beauty proved wonderfully arresting. The shrine itself is quite small; the rough walls are beautifully adorned with stones and carvings collected from churches and religious houses of great antiquity in England and throughout Europe. On entering and passing through a short passage, one arrives first of all at the well, with its staircase descending to the water, for the use of pilgrims. Passing round we had a view of the altar, before which many candles were already burning, though the niche behind was as yet empty. In spite of being small the Chapel looked most imposing with its decorations of gold and silver, and crimson hangings. Certainly Sir William Milner and his partner, Mr Craze, who designed and carried out the work, have made of it a wonderful success. And later on, when the seated figure of our Lady and the Holy Child had been placed on its appointed recess for the veneration of the faithful, one experienced the same wonderful feeling of `atmosphere' as for instance in the grotto at Lourdes: or in the Chapel of Paray le Monial where Margaret Mary Alacocq was vouchsafed her visions of the Sacred Heart. top of page The luncheon interval, in the garden of the Hospice, passed quickly, and soon after two o'clock we were all on the move again for the Church. At half past two the service began with a panegyric pronounced by Father Baverstock: his statement that today's happenings at Walsingham were one of the most notable events of the Catholic movement in the Church of England was in full agreement with what many of us were feeling at the moment. After the panegyric came Solemn Benediction, and then the procession to the Shrine began to be formed. The statue of our Lady of Walsingham was borne down the Nave on the shoulders of four deacons of honour, and there were priests walking beside the image, including Father Fynes-Clinton, Father Whitby and Father Baverstock. Sir William Milner, as the architect of the shrine, led the way, in front of crucifix and torch bearers, after which followed two long lines of priests properly vested and each carrying a lighted candle. Then came the Abbot of Nashdom and Bishop O'Rorke, vested in cope and mitre. The large body of laity followed, everyone bearing a lighted taper, and this part of the procession gained much from the excellent staff work of the stewards, who kept the two lines of pilgrims wide part, so there was no straggling or confusion. One could not help wishing, though, that the devotion of the faithful did not find vocal expression while the procession went through the village. The singing, as always in the open air, was very thin, and those in front seemed very often to be singing quite a different hymn to those behind. On arrival at the shrine, however, it became necessary to sing "Faith of our Fathers" as loudly as possible, for the Wycliffe preachers had taken up a strategic position, and did their best — happily without much success — to be vociferous. Soon hymn singing gave place to the Magnificat, then the collect for the feast of the Annunciation was recited, and finally all joined in the Te Deum as a final and very impressive act of thanksgiving. This being concluded, first the clergy and then the laity passed through the chapel in single file, everyone kneeling to make a short prayer before the altar and the statue of the Walsingham Madonna, now established in her permanent resting place. When this almost endless stream of pilgrims had passed through the shrine all adjourned to the Hospice Garden for tea, and soon it became necessary for those returning by train to make for the station. Parties by motor-coach and char-à-banc also left as darkness began to fall. It was, indeed, the end of a perfect day; and we, who had still leisure before going back to Blakeney, lingered awhile in the garden, and paid a visit, with the Abbot of Nashdom as our cicerone, to the house close by lately acquired by the Nashdom Benedictines. And last of all we made a farewell visit to the shrine, by that time quite empty except for a young religious who was rearranging the many candles placed on the prickets by the faithful. A last prayer before the altar, a last look at the face of our Lady of Walsingham up above, and we too took the road. The feeling was strong upon us that we had seen and experienced wonderful things that day. No one who had the privilege of being there could surely fail to remember with joy and gratitude the great day of the Feast of St Theresa Jesu, 1931, on which had taken place with such devotion the translation of the statue of our Lady of Walsingham. top of page