Pilgrimage is an essential part of life and living. Christians see life itself in terms of a journey, coming from God and returning to God. This is true of other world religions where pilgrimage is also important.
A pilgrimage is a symbol in action. It represents the journey of the Christian life from earth to heaven. The Church is sometimes described as a pilgrim people.
Back in the Middle Ages pilgrimages were very popular. It was not like going on holiday. Pilgrimages often took years. Journeys were long and dangerous and many died en route. They usually travelled in groups and would stay in monasteries or hostels on the way.
Pilgrims undertook these journeys to holy places because it was important for their faith. If they had committed sins they believed that by going on a pilgrimage they could show God how sorry they were. Sometimes they were sent on such journeys by a priest as a penance. Sometimes they went for healing of a physical condition.
It is a strange phenomenon of the late twentieth century that pilgrimage should again have become popular. Thousands of visitors come to Walsingham each year.
The particular emphasis of pilgrimage to Walsingham is concerned with the Incarnation of Jesus - this is the belief central to the Christian faith that at a definite date in history, in a certain place, God himself was born of a woman into a human family.
The Holy House is a reminder of Nazareth, of the house in which Jesus lived as a child and young man. By visiting it and praying within it, pilgrims believe that they are identifying with those influences which were formative as Jesus grew through childhood to adolescence and adulthood.
The much-loved statue of Our Lady of Walsingham is enthroned within the Holy House. It is important to understand that the statue is a focus for devotion - a visual aid - and not something to be worshipped in itself. Down through the years Christians have sought the prayers of Mary to support them in their pilgrimage through life. At times in the history of the church there has been controversy about devotion to Mary but in these ecumenical days there are few who would deny a right respect and love to the Mother of Jesus.
Thousands of Pilgrims representing hundreds of parishes come on pilgrimage to Walsingham every year.