Walsingham in Norfolk is one of those places that time seems to have passed by, a place of oak-beamed buildings, colourful cottage gardens and peace. Although it is off the beaten track 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. It is therefore difficult to escape the fact that for centuries Christians have been travelling to Walsingham to lay their needs, and the needs of others, before the Lord. St Anne’s Parish has followed this tradition now for over 20 years, along with friends from neighbouring churches in the Fylde such as St Nicholas, Fleetwood and St John the Evangelist, Lund.
Our pilgrimage usually takes place during September, departing the Fylde around 9am on a Monday morning. We arrange a stop en route at a church where for the first time we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This is followed by lunch and the continuation of our journey to arrive at Walsingham in time to find our rooms, take a little refreshment in the bar and enjoy our evening meal. This is followed by our first visit to the Holy House together. After a long day many people are in need of a cup of coffee and sleep, but rumour has it that a small group find the energy for stronger refreshment at The Bull.
The following morning usually sees us following the traditional Stations of the Cross around the Shrine grounds before Mass. Over the years we have celebrated Mass in different chapels and churches locally, including St Mary’s Church in the village, the chapel in the Convent, and churches in neighbouring villages. After lunch we usually head off by coach for devotions at the RC Shrine in the Chapel of the Reconciliation, which is about a mile outside the village and the site of the ancient Slipper Chapel, where mediaeval (and some modern) pilgrims removed their shoes for the final mile into the village. If the weather is fine, some people elect to walk back to the village along the Holy Mile in time for a cup of tea at one of the cafes in the village. In the evening we attend a service of Healing and Reconciliation, with sprinkling at the Holy 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 comments on the wonderful atmosphere of this service and how moving it is.
On Wednesday morning we usually have intercessions in the Holy House, when we pray for ourselves, our parishes and those who need our prayers. This is followed by the usual mid-week Pilgrim Mass when all the pilgrim groups and their clergy come together to celebrate Sung Mass in the Shrine Church. During the afternoon we usually arrange a coach trip out of Walsingham, though some prefer to remain in Walsingham, to pray, relax, browse the shops and historic landmarks in the village or visit St Mary’s Church. Alternatively, there is a local bus to Wells-next-the Sea, which can also be reached by narrow gauge railway. Recent coach trips have included Norwich Cathedral, the Thursford Collection, various local churches of interest, and Sheringham, with a trip on the steam railway to Holt. On Wednesday evening there is a spectacular torchlit outdoor procession of Our Lady, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, after which a number of us take refreshment in The Bull and reflect on our three days together.
On Thursday morning we have our final offering of Mass with a final opportunity to say a few prayers and light a candle in the Holy House before breakfast and departure for St Annes at about 10am, not forgetting our traditional final photo call.
It is a wonderful few days of spiritual enrichment and fellowship. Is it only for the sanctimonious or holy? Certainly not! This is fun and a celebration of our faith. If we thirst after righteousness, we have a physical thirst as well and the fellowship of the gatherings in the pub or the trips out are as much part of the experience as the devotions. Give it a try, you may just enjoy it! For further information, including dates and cost for this year, please contact one of the clergy, Cell Secretary, Kath Hall, or Pilgrimage Organiser, Gerald Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.