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The National Pilgrimage

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2016 National Pilgrimage

Monday, 30th May - 12 noon

Walsingham Abbey Grounds

Concelebrated Mass - 12 noon

Principal Celebrant: The Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield

Sermon, Procession & Benediction - 2.30 pm

Preacher: The Revd Andrew Mitcham - Vicar/Rector of the Benefice of Walsingham, Houghton St Giles and the Barshams & Guardian of the Shrine

2016 National Pilgrimage
Monday, 30th May

Report and Photographs below



The Shrine Priest, Fr Graham Lunn, eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead and with an inscrutable expression, leads the procession of Guardians, Bishops and Clergy from the Shrine Church to the Abbey grounds, past the pump in the Common Place.

For a printable PDF of Fr Andrew Mitcham's sermon (see below) please click here.


Fr Philip Barnes - the Interim Priest Administrator - writes:


A cold and blustery day made north Norfolk on Bank Holiday Monday feel more like November than May, but a warm spirit of thanksgiving and festival prevailed for a joyful National Pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage programme began with a glorious Choral Evensong and Benediction on Sunday evening, with musicians led by Nick Kerrison, our own Director of Music. It was good to begin the festival with prayer before the Sacrament, and to have a moment of stillness before business of the next day.

Just under two-thousand gathered in the Abbey grounds for the Pilgrimage Mass. As everyone waited for the entrance procession, the overwhelming thought was 'please don't rain'. And although the wind blew a gale - it didn't. The Principal Celebrant was the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson. In his welcome to the Mass Bishop Tony reminded us that Mary is the Mother of Mercy – she sings of God’s mercy in her Magnificat, and gave birth to incarnate mercy – Jesus Christ.


After Mass pilgrims received the ‘healing ministries’ in the Shrine Church, or stoically braved the chill to enjoy picnic lunches in the Abbey Grounds. It was a great chance for everyone to greet old friends and - for those bishops and priests doing the rounds of the grounds - a chance to sample a variety of picnic offerings!


At 2.30 pm, after the final 2016 rendition of "The Happy Birds Te Deums Sing" ( 'tis Mary's Month of May) and a choir anthem, the Vicar of Walsingham, Houghton and the Barshams, Fr Andrew Mitcham, (who is also a Guardian of the Shrine) delivered a powerful and challenging sermon in which he spoke of Walsingham as a truly dreadful place! He spoke of the verse in Genesis 28 (v17) in which Jacob exclaims - after waking from his vision of the ladder with the ascending and descending angels - “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven.” Fr Hope Patten had chosen those words as the motto of the Shrine (Domus Dei - Porta Coeli).

Fr Andrew said Walsingham was a place of encounter with the mercy of God –a mercy which we are invited to reflect in our own lives.


After the sermon Our Lady of Walsingham was carried in procession through the village as we sang the pilgrim hymn and recited the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, recalling the ways those mysteries show God’s mercy to us. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given by the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley who retired last year as a much loved Bishop of Edmonton.

As they headed for home many pilgrims sought out warming cups of tea, and in the Common Place friendships were renewed and refreshment of another kind taken. It may not have been the hottest National Pilgrimage on record, but it was certainly full of joy, hope and many blessings!




In 1938 the Whitsun weekend saw a huge influx of pilgrims to Walsingham to witness the blessing of the much enlarged Shrine Church.  As had become customary, there was a great procession from the Parish Church to the Shrine . It was estimated that the procession took "one hour less three minutes" to pass the Common Place and that 6,000 pilgrims passed through the Holy House. In the report of the weekend in the 1938 Our Lady's Mirror (the forerunner of the present Walsingham Review) the intention was announced to hold a similar day pilgrimage "as an annual event every Whit Monday."

This indeed happened in 1939 and 1940, but then, for the remainder of World War II, the pilgrimage went into abeyance. 1946 saw its highly successful revival - but pouring rain meant the procession had to be cancelled! The Whit Monday great pilgrimage became known as the "National" in 1959 - after one of the guardians, the present Earl of Lauderdale, had written to The Church Times urging people to join the Whit Monday pilgrimage, describing it as "the first National Pilgrimage in the history of the Church of England to the Shrine of the Incarnation at Walsingham."

In 1971 the Whit Monday bank holiday was moved to the last Monday in May and the National Pilgrimage moved from Whitsuntide to this date. The only cancellation since 1946 was in 2001 because of the Foot and Mouth epidemic.

The Walsingham Archive pages contain fascinating accounts and much more information on the history of the National. Did you know, for example, that there were not enough cows in Walsingham to supply the milk needed for the pilgrims' tea on Whit Monday 1938? Or that 106 pilgrims had breakfast at The Clock Restaurant in Welwyn Garden City on their way to Walsingham and between them, left 4d (four pence) in tips! Go to the Archive home page, enter the Archives and find "Whit Monday Pilgrimages".

Since 2004, when the programme of the National Pilgrimage was recast to include a lunch-break, the practice of formal picnicking in The Abbey grounds has grown. Last year, there was a wonderful sense of togetherness as pilgrims from all over the country produced hampers, tables and chairs  - and the Walsingham National Pilgrimage lunch party began! If you are coming to this year's event, do think about bringing a picnic - of course the sun will shine and the grass be dry!

The Procession in Common Place in 2009

Our Lady of Walsingham and Our Lady of Lourdes 2009


Useful information about the National

The weather - (dare one say it) the National is remarkably blessed with good weather. Washouts, fortunately, are very rare. In 2006 whilst the rest of Britain had torrential rain, this little bit of north Norfolk remained sunny and dry until the evening (see picture opposite). But do come prepared. 2007 saw the worst weather for the National since 1983. You never can tell! 2008 - 2014 was mainly dry and sunny; just the occasional bit of drizzle.

The two services (12 noon Mass and 2.30 pm Sermon, Procession and Benediction) take place in the grounds of The Abbey - the gardens of the house which was created from the ruins of the original Walsingham Priory. Pilgrims are welcome to picnic in the gardens during the lunch interval (1.00 pm - 2.30 pm). Since the lunch interval was created in 2004 there has been steady increase in the numbers choosing to bring their own picnic, tables and chairs, often meeting up with friends for an enjoyable meal. (See below for information on obtaining refreshments.)

There are car parks (cost: 3.50) for pilgrims (in addition to the permanent one west of the Common Place) in Church Street (by the farm entrance on the sunken road) and in Wells Road (just north of the war memorial)

Coaches should approach Walsingham on what is now the B1155 from Fakenham  to Wells-next-the-Sea (the so-called "dry road"). A right-hand turn at Egmere and then travelling a mile along the Egmere Road,  gives easy access to the Coach Park - members of the Shrine National Pilgrimage Stewarding team will be on duty all day at the Coach Park.

The main High Street and part of Holt Road will be closed to traffic from approximately 11.00 am until after Benediction. Please follow the alternative directions given by the police to get around the village.

Many pilgrims come to Walsingham for the day; others prefer to stay for the weekend. The Shrine accommodation is always fully booked a year in advance - as is that of the RC Pilgrim Bureau - but there are opportunities to rent local cottages for the weekend or the week (school half-term). For further information about Bed and Breakfast establishments and cottage hire contact the local Tourist Board in Walsingham - tel: 01328 820510.

The National Pilgrimage Programme & Handbook (cost 3.50 - schoolchildren free) contains both information and the services for the day. Do make sure you buy one - it all also serves as your admission pass to The Abbey. They are available from various points in the Shrine and at the entrances to The Abbey - both the High Street archway and the drive gates on the sunken road. There is a charge of 2 per child for the children's activity tent.

Entering The Abbey grounds - please use the main Abbey archway in the High Street when entering and leaving the grounds. Use of the small Knight's Gate opposite the Shrine Church is restricted to pass-holders.

All Priests Associate of the Holy House are invited to concelebrate the Mass. They should be in the Shrine Church by 11.20 am with an alb and a white stole. (See Membership - Priests Associate for details of becoming a Priest Associate)

Seats are not provided for the congregation. Please bring a collapsible chair if you would prefer not to sit on the grass. Bring a rug or ground sheet in case of damp weather if sitting on the grass.

There are public lavatories by The Abbey archway and inside the grounds. In the Shrine grounds facilities are available in the refectory/Norton Room.

Pilgrims in wheelchairs have a special area reserved for them near the altar. Stewards will give directions.

BSL Interpretation - the worship is signed and a special area is reserved near the altar for those who wish to take advantage of this. Stewards will give directions.

Changing and feeding facilities for babies are available. Please ask a steward for directions.

First Aid - a paramedic and members of the St John's Ambulance Brigade will be on duty. In an emergency please get assistance from one of the Stewards.

Refreshments - in case you forget your picnic - are available in the Norton Room (situated below the Pilgrim Refectory in the Shrine Grounds.) After the procession and Benediction, tea will be served in the main refectory. There are also several tea shops in Walsingham High Street, the Walsingham Farms Shop in Guild Street and the Norfolk Riddle Restaurant (plus fish and chip shop) across the road by the war memorial.

The Shrine Church will be locked at 11.00 am and will remain locked until after the Mass. It will be locked again between 2.20 pm and the end of Benediction.



Brightly dawns the 2006 National day! - early arrivals await the procession from the Shrine (above) - the organist gets organised (below)

The procession to Mass leaving the Shrine Church in 2005 - the Shrine's famous "Maltese" lanterns to the fore (above); the return procession passes the Common Place (below)



  The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Walsingham, Norfolk NR22 6BP | Tel: 01328 820255 | Fax: 01328 824206