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Information on the National Pilgrimage
2015 National Pilgrimage
Monday, 25th May - 12 noon
Walsingham Abbey Grounds
2014 National Pilgrimage
Monday, 26th May
Report and Photographs
Bishop Lindsay Urwin OGS writes:
If much of the rest of England, and even some of Norfolk, was overshadowed by clouds and rain on the second May Bank Holiday Monday, Walsingham was bathed in sunshine. It was perfect weather for the well over 2000 pilgrims who gathered for the outdoor National Pilgrimage Mass in the grounds of the ancient Priory Church, where before the destruction of the Shrine, Augustinian monks sang the praises of God and cared for the original Holy House.
One group of pilgrims from the south-west had set off at 3 a.m. to ensure their arrival before Noon, and there were many groups from the north as well as from London, the South and the Midlands. A group from St Alban’s diocese brought their diocesan icon, currently touring Hertfordshire, which was carried during the afternoon procession. Groups brought their picnic lunches, some simple sandwiches, others more exotic - even a Fortnum’s hamper - while in some corners of the grounds there was the distinct aroma of West Indian fare! It was great to see such a gathering of all ages, numbers of twenty-somethings, plenty of children and families and, of course, many who have made this journey to England’s Nazareth for years.
The principal Celebrant at the Mass, joined by over fifteen bishops and two hundred priests with a dozen deacons assisting, was Bishop John Goddard who will retire as Bishop of Burnley in July. In his welcome, Bishop Lindsay thanked him for his evident commitment and sacrificial witness especially in matters relating to social justice. An outspoken critic of any vestige of racism in our society, he has been a great force for good in a part of the country where there has been considerable racial tension.
Music at the Mass was a delightful mix of ancient and modern, and was led by the chamber choir of Hurstpierpoint in West Sussex, who spent the weekend at the Shrine and sang at the Saturday pilgrimage mass, at the parish church on Sunday morning, and at Evensong and Benediction - in a packed Shrine Church - which now marks the beginning of the National Pilgrimage celebrations. Like Ardingly College and Trinity School, Lewisham who made up the serving team and torch bearers that escort the Image throughout the day, it is part of the Woodard family of schools.
This year, for the first time, young army cadets from Walsingham provided the guard of honour, which would surely have rejoiced the heart of Father Hope Patten, the restorer of the Shrine, committed as he was to the young people of the village.
In the afternoon, the sermon was preached by Mother Mary Luke from the Community of the Holy Cross at Costock, a contemplative Benedictine Community. What she preached - on the theme of taking Mary to our home - was clear and deep. The text will appear as time goes by on this website and will appear in the Assumptiontide Walsingham Review.
The reflective Litany of Our Lady was sung as the procession of witness was marshalled, and then made its way along the sunken road, past the parish church and up the High Street singing the much-loved pilgrim hymn, and praying the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. In the midst of today’s pilgrims, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was borne by deacons and escorted by the Guardians of the Shrine, reminding us of the great Company to which we belong, which no person can number and calling us to recognise that we are simply the lower fringe of the Church and to unite our praises with the saints and heavenly host.
Our connection with pilgrims from the past is called to mind in a very moving way as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is offered in the site of the original Holy House that was so much the centre of devotion and prayer before the destruction of the Shrine in 1538.
After the celebrations pilgrims lingered in the Abbey and Shrine grounds or in the Common Place, nearby to The Bull public house - another abiding pilgrimage tradition! It seemed as if they didn’t want to leave, but of course they did, as pilgrims should, returning to their daily round much renewed.
Next year the National Pilgrimage will take place on Bank Holiday Monday 25th May
- HOW IT CAME ABOUT
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
Our Lady of Walsingham and Our Lady of
Useful information about the National
The weather - (dare one say it) the National is
remarkably blessed with good weather. Washouts, fortunately, are
very rare. Last year (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. STOP PRESS: 2007 saw the worst weather for
the National since 1983. You never can tell!
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
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
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
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