Walsingham Festival at Coventry Cathedral

Stuart Grout – Sacristan and Membership Assistant – reports on the celebrations in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham on Saturday 8th December:

This most recent Walsingham Festival held at Coventry Cathedral was one of the best I have ever attended. Previously I have only really attended them as a pilgrim or to assist from a Sacristy point-of-view. However this time I was given a completely new challenge and told I was looking after the Membership and Shrine Shop stall. I love a challenge, so I stepped up to the plate immediately. I took Erin, my partner, with me for help and we set out to Coventry with our heads held high and our hearts singing.

When it came to the day itself it was so lovely and busy and was full of worship, prayer with the cathedral buzzing with life. For such a huge building it did not look empty at all; in fact quite the opposite which spoke volumes of the vibrancy of the Anglo-Catholic tradition within the Diocese of Coventry alone. The services for the day began after the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham was greeted at the West Door with a 12 noon Mass – at which the Principal Celebrant was The Right Revd Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley and Master of the Guardians. A very powerful homily was preached by The Right Revd Christopher Cocksworth, the Lord Bishop of Coventry. (Click here to open a PDF of the Bishop’s homily.)

Then followed the lunch break during which we did a roaring trade on our Shop and Membership stall selling everything from statues to mugs and coasters. During the lunch break, pilgrims also had the opportunity to receive Sprinkling with water from the Holy Well as well as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The day concluded with yet another sermon preached again so wonderfully by His Grace Bernard Longley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. (Click here for a PDF of the Archbishop’s address.) The Archbishop’s presence as part of the day was to me making a major point of the ecumenism and relationship between the two Shrines here in Walsingham – especially after the signing of the Ecumenical Covenant. Then followed the Church’s Ministries of Healing and Reconciliation which are so regularly offered at the Shrine. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given by The Right Revd Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet.

We were both so awe-struck by the representation from other parishes as people came from far and wide. From our point of view – running our stall – we could meet and greet all sorts of other people who included a few people who were Coventry residents, who worshipped regularly at the Cathedral and who had heard of The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham but had never visited. So we seized the opportunity to tell them the Walsingham Story and give them as much information and guidance as possible to try to persuade them to come on a private pilgrimage. We did also suggest visits to churches within the Diocese of Coventry which already hold Parish Pilgrimages each year. We even met a lady who told us she was baptised in the cathedral so, judging by her age, we could only speculate she was baptised in the original cathedral before the bombing.

We had never been to Coventry Cathedral before and not having much chance to look around during the busyness of the day’s activities we could only take in what we could see. The Graham Sutherland tapestry of Christ in Glory was probably one of the most beautiful pieces I had ever seen. I am a lover of Sutherland’s work having seen many times his depiction of the Crucifixion which hangs in St Matthew’s Church, Northampton which I used to see whenever I used to serve there as a part of the GSS or at their Patronal festival. We also loved hearing the mighty organ during the day’s services and we were awe struck by the beautiful words of the Coventry Penitential Rite which was recited at the very beginning of the service when we welcomed the image at the west door, flanked as usual by the Guardians’ of the Shrine and many ranks of Clergy, servers and children of varying ages.

I have to say that as much as I find contemplative prayer a huge struggle, the highlight of the day was when we all prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary together, lead so beautifully by Maureen Howard while the healing ministries were taking place. I am always hit so hard by the mere fact we successfully manage to keep that many people silent while they are milling around saying their prayers and receiving the healing ministries of the church with the low rumbling of our voices reciting the Holy Rosary together.

I would just like to conclude this report by saying I hope everyone enjoyed this day as much as we did and we look forward to going to many more Walsingham Festivals in the coming years. Even though we were working, we both still felt like Walsingham Pilgrims on a journey of faith together. I feel it is so important not just to keep the message and the story of Walsingham within the Shrine Precincts for our pilgrims who come on a regular basis, but to take it out to the whole nation and spread it abroad. This is something I already feel that we are doing with a great deal of success and that we can already feel the fruits of our labours.

Visit our Photo Gallery to experience the day in pictures – About/The Photo Gallery