The Shrine Church is situated in beautiful grounds close to the centre of the medieval village of Little Walsingham.Built in the twentieth century, the Shrine Church is where the Holy House is located - a replica of the home in Nazareth of Joseph, Mary and Jesus (the Holy Family) - and where the 20 Guardians of the Shrine have their stalls.
The New Holy House and Shrine
In 1930 the then Bishop of Norfolk (Bertram Pollock) insisted that Fr Patten, the vicar of Walsingham, remove the image of Our Lady of Walsingham from the parish church. Undeterred Fr Patten sought financial help from supporters (principally Sir William Milner) and was able to buy a suitable plot of land elsewhere with the intention of building a new Holy House enclosed in a very small church. Although a modern copy with an Italianate exterior, its design (by architects Milner & Craze) reflects many of the features that would have been familiar to medieval pilgrims. Fr Patten, although a member of the Church of England, was part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. As such, he believed that there was a continuity between the Pre-Reformation Church and the Church of England of his own day. He felt that there should be a return to a greater degree of richness in the Church’s worship and the ornamentation of its buildings. This is reflected in the colourful paintings and statues, the use of incense and, most importantly, in the honour given to the Virgin Mary and the Saints. These traditions are continued here today.
It soon became apparent that this building was far too small for the growing number of pilgrims. In 1938 the Shrine was considerably extended to its present length and later in the 1950’s and 60’s the side aisles were added.
The Holy House
Within the Holy House is the image of Our Lady of Walsingham, carved in 1922 and copied from the seal of the medieval Priory which was suppressed in 1538. The On the walls of the Holy House both inside and out are small shelf lamps each with a shield bearing a dedication – Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for . . . These lamps are lit during the services of Sprinkling and Shrine Prayers every day.
On entering the Shrine Church from the Fountain Courtyard the first thing one sees is a memorial tomb to Fr Patten next to the steps which lead down to the well. When the foundations of the church were being dug in 1930’s, Fr Patten was thrilled when the workmen discovered an ancient well which, once cleared of debris, provided a seemingly never ending supply of pure fresh water. The well was rebuilt and incorporated into the Shrine Church and the healing service of Sprinkling added to Shrine’s liturgy.
As the church expanded so did the number of small side chapels each of which is dedicated to a saint. The 15 chapels are also named after the mysteries of the Rosary. If you enter the church through the west doors you will see in front of you the Chapel of S. Gabriel with the Altar of the Annunciation. Above the altar is a copy of the famous Della Robbia coloured terracotta panel showing the Angel Gabriel greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary with the news that God had chosen her to be the mother of His son.
The walls of the church are richly decorated with murals many of which were designed and painted by Enid Chadwick, a talented artist and supporter of Fr Patten who lived in the village for many years until her death. Work by the celebrated church architect Sir Ninian Comper can also be found in the church – three stained glass windows, the Holy House altar and two sets of vestments.
This modern church reminds us of unbroken pilgrimage for about a thousand years. The unique spirit of Walsingham is there amongst the pilgrims, as people of all ages celebrate and pray together.
In addition to pilgrimage devotions, there are daily celebrations of the Eucharist, Evening Prayer, and Shrine Prayers - the daily offering of all prayer requests received by email, telephone and letter.