Walsingham in Norfolk is one of those places that time seems to have passed by for hundreds of years, a place of oak-beamed buildings, colourful cottage gardens and peace. Off the beaten track you might think, but the truth is that people have been beating a track to this place for almost 1000 years, since the lady of the manor had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and erected a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth in a field. In the Middle Ages it was said that the Milky Way pointed here and even Henry VIII was a pilgrim. So it is difficult to escape the fact that for centuries Christians have been coming here to lay their needs and the needs of others before the Lord.

Our pilgrimage this year to Walsingham involved people from four churches on the Fylde coast, namely St Nicholas Fleetwood, St Christopher, Hawesside, St John the Baptist, Lund and ourselves.  We were led for the first time by Fr David and had the company also of Fr Stephen and Fr Paul Benfield from St Nicholas.  Our party of 28 left the Fylde on Monday 23rd August arriving at Walsingham in time to unpack and commence our pilgrimage to England's Nazareth with our First Visit to the Holy House before an excellent and welcome meal, served in the Refectory.  This year many of our party had rooms in the new Milner Wing at the shrine, which was very nice.  After supper we had our first Mass celebrated in the St Augustine Chapel.  After a long day most people headed for a cup of coffee and bed, but rumour has it that a small group found the energy for stronger refreshment at the Bull.  

The following morning saw us following the traditional Stations of the Cross around the Shrine grounds before heading off by coach for devotions at the RC Shrine in the Chapel of the Reconciliation.  A number of people elected to walk back to the village along the Holy Mile, though most only just made it home before the rain.  In the afternoon about half the group took the coach over to Binham Priory to see the very substantial remains of the Benedictine priory founded in 1103, the huge nave of which forms the present day parish church: a most impressive place.  In the evening there followed the customary Tuesday evening service of Healing and Reconciliation, with sprinkling at the well followed by laying-on of hands, anointing and confession proceeding simultaneously at different points around the church, all in the peaceful presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Everyone commented on the wonderful atmosphere of this service and how moving it was.

On Wednesday morning we had Intercessions in the Holy House, when we prayed for ourselves and our parishes and those who needed our prayers.  This was followed by the usual mid-week Pilgrim Mass celebrated by Bishop Lindsay, who surely claims to follow in the steps of Bishop O'Rorke (buried in the shrine church) in having the tallest mitre in Christendom. During the afternoon some of the group took the coach to Holt, while others relaxed, browsed the shops in the village or visited St Mary's Church.  For the first time anyone could remember the evening outdoor procession of Our Lady was cancelled due to rain and replaced by a token indoor procession performed by a number of children.  This was followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, after which a number of us took refreshment either in the Bull or the Black Lion.  The pilgrimage was completed on Thursday morning with our final offering of mass and prayers in the Holy House and departure for St Annes.

As usual it was a wonderful few days of spiritual enrichment and fellowship.  Everyone left Walsingham very much looking forward to next years pilgrimage on 6th-9th September (to include Our Lady's Birthday) and especially so our new pilgrims, Howard Gent, Maureen Rogers and Hilary Smith.  Only for the sanctimonious or holy??  Certainly not! This was fun and a celebration of our faith. If we thirsted after righteousness, we had a physical thirst as well and the fellowship of the gatherings in the pub or the trips out were as much part of the experience as the devotional parts. Give it a try next year, you may just enjoy it!  For further information speak to me or any member of the Cell of Our Lady of Walsingham.


Gerald Wilson