One of the good news stories in the Church at the moment is the significant developments taking place at Walsingham. The plans and what has already been achieved are impressive.
However one important focus
that has always been missing from the Catholic Shrine and pilgrimage
experience is the Holy House.
Pilgrimage to Walsingham was never about
the image of Our Lady.
The ancient focus was always the replica of
Jesus’ childhood home.
Walsingham without a Holy House is like Lourdes
without the Grotto.
In 1061 Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of Our Lady in which she
was led in spirit to Nazareth. Our Lady showed her the house where the
Annunciation occurred, and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham to
serve as a perpetual memorial of the Annunciation.
The image of Our
Lady developed much later and so from the earliest days the primary
focus had been this humble home. It was to this little wooden chapel
that generations of pilgrims made their way.
The first major Catholic development at Walsingham after the
reformation was the opening of the Pontifical Shrine at Kings Lynn in
1897. Here a Lady Chapel was constructed to the original dimensions of
the Holy House in Loretto and so the first attempt to establish a shrine
had the Holy House as a the main focus.
Since the likeness of the
original Walsingham statue was not known at the time, the Pope directed
that a new statue be copied from the picture of Our Lady venerated in
the Roman Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
When the Anglicans first established their shrine in 1931 (this is
the year that the image was transferred from the Parish Church) it was
the Holy House and its covering chapel that was built first. The
remaining pilgrimage church was not completed for another seven years.
The Revd Hope Patten understood the importance of the Holy House and the
significance of its message.
I love visiting Walsingham and the Slipper Chapel is a place of real
peace and holiness.
However, for me, the shrine will always be
incomplete without a Holy House to visit and say Mass in. It is of
course possible to visit the Holy House in the Anglican Shrine and
rebuilding a Catholic Holy House may seem to be unnecessarily
competitive in this ecumenical age. However, Catholics cannot say Mass
in the Anglican Shrine and so any visit is reduced in significance and
never really feels like home.
By having the image as the focus of our pilgrimage we lose something
of the centrality of the annunciation to the message of Walsingham. The
holy house speaks of humility and hospitality. As pilgrims we are
welcomed to the earthly home of our heavenly mother.
Visiting a replica
of this house allows us to immerse ourselves in the mystery of the Word
The statue is important as are the other aspects of
pilgrimage at Walsingham but I still long for the day when I can once
more enter that humble dwelling where Mary said yes to God.
XIII claimed that “When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will
return to England”.
The Holy House is surely part of establishing this