Although not its main purpose, the ministry of healing has always been a constituent part of Walsingham pilgrimage. Surviving medieval writings, like the Pynson Ballad and Erasmus's description of his visit, speak of the expectation of cures. We know that rich and poor alike came to seek Our Lady's intercession for healing of specific ailments, although the names of only the important families appear in the scanty records of the time. Among them were many English monarchs and their wives, Cardinal Wolsey, and generations of the local Paston family.
From the very beginning of Fr Patten’s restoration in 1922 the pilgrimages included visits to the wells for healing prayers, as enshrined in the very first Pilgrims' Manual. Before the Holy House was built in 1931, revealing and using its ancient well, every pilgrimage incorporated a visit to the medieval wells in the Abbey grounds: this had to be on Wednesday afternoons, the only time in the week that the Abbey grounds were open to the public. There at what were then called the "bathing pools" pilgrims drank the waters and sufferers were "bathed" - not immersion, but more like our present Sprinkling. Many small plaques at the west end of the Shrine church testify to early pilgrims' thankfulness for healing received.
Even during the war when pilgrimages were few, the healing aspect of the Shrine's ministry never ceased, the intercessions continued, and the Shrine's own well has always been available daily for Sprinkling. This much was an integral part of the whole Walsingham experience, but over the years the Guardians grew concerned that not enough was being done for those with special needs: This led to the first dedicated "Pilgrimage for the Sick" on 3 July 1982 (held annually ever since). It was intended as "an act of devotion for the sick and all those concerned with their welfare". After a Mass at the Halifax Altar in the Shrine gardens there was Sprinkling, individual counselling, and Anointing.
From 2003 the pilgrimage has been called the "Pilgrimage for Healing and Renewal" and remains one of the major pilgrimages of the Shrine's year. Weather permitting, all aspects of the pilgrimage day are held in the Shrine gardens. In 2004 the Halifax altar was replaced by the Altar of the Mysteries of Light as part of the restructuring of the gardens by Tessa Hobbs. Today the Pilgrimage is always held on the late summer bank holiday (the last Monday in August). The 12 noon Mass is followed by lunch – most pilgrims picnic in the gardens – and then Sprinkling, Laying-On of Hands and Anointing.
2019 Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal
Monday 26th August - Shrine Grounds: 12 noon Concelebrated Mass (Principal Celebrant - Bishop Robert Ladds); 2.30 pm Sermon (Preacher: The Revd Canon Gary Ecclestone - Vicar of Hanslope & Castlethorpe, Milton Keynes); Sprinkling, Laying-on of Hands & Benediction.
To read a report on this year's Pilgrimage for Healing & Renewal click here.