Saturday, 11 April 2015

Visiting Walsingham

Open Air Altar at the Anglican Shrine

Walsingham is one of those special places, sometimes described as ‘thin’.  Of course, God is accessible anywhere and everywhere, but ‘thin’ places offer a particular opportunity to feel God’s presence.

Anglican Shrine - Stations of the Cross
I don’t often go to North Norfolk as the United Reformed Church is extremely thin – different meaning of thin! – on the ground there, which may be one reason why I have not previously Walsingham.  However, as a family, we have just spent a few days’ holiday in one of the nearby villages and so went to Walsingham before returning home yesterday.

At the Roman Catholic Shrine
We drove to the Anglican shrine and then walked – perhaps a mile and a half or two miles – to the Roman Catholic shrine.  The Anglican shrine dates from the eleventh century when a noblewoman called Richeldis had a vision of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary in her Nazareth home with the news of the birth of Jesus.  She was to build a replica of the house she saw in her village of Walsingham, situated mid way between Norwich, then England’s second city, and King’s Lynn.  So the village became known as England’s Nazareth and a place of pilgrimage.  The shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538, but rebuilt in the 20th century.  The church consists of a significant number of chapels with a wide range of dedications and feels very much like a place of prayer.  The beautiful grounds extend the prayerful location and offer both an outdoor altar in a tent-like structure and depictions of the Stations of the Cross.

The Roman Catholic shrine is based on the Slipper Chapel, a fourteenth century wayside pilgrim chapel, also restored and established as a place of pilgrimage in the twentieth century.  The grounds now include a large new chapel (consecrated in 1982) with its altar able to be used within the church or, facing the other way, to serve a much larger outdoor crowd.

It was good to walk and pray and reflect – to enjoy the tranquillity and feel glad to be in places where many pilgrims have come and continue to visit.  It was good to reflect on the presence of God – and to think of the place of special places, wherever they may be. 

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