Dear brothers and sisters,
Such is the degree of removal of Walsingham from our usual South Wales surroundings, that it seems odd to think that all but two days ago we were together in Cardiff, celebrating the Divine Liturgy in Nazareth House, surrounded by all of the noise and busy-ness of the city.
Here, in rural North Norfolk, we feel as though we are in a different world, surrounded by gently undulating countryside, in a village whose medieval origins are plain for all to see, with flint-knapped cottages and the haphazard twists and turns of lanes and alleys once thronged by the pilgrims who flocked here not only from all parts of Britain, but also from foreign climes to venerate the replica of the Holy House, built at the instruction of the Mother of God by the Lady of the Manor, Rychold, in the immediate years before the Norman conquest.
During the day the carillon and angelus rings across the village with the Anglican Shrine at its centre and the Roman Catholic Shrine at the medieval Slipper Chapel, and – far from noise and light pollution – the night is quiet and the sky is clear.
At this moment, I’m sitting in one of my favourite thinking-places, at the desk in the library of St Augustine’s in the College, overlooking the shrine church, looking up to the window of the Orthodox Chapel of the Life-Giving Spring, in which we celebrated the Liturgy for the feast of the Three-Handed Icon of the Mother of God of Chilandar.
Though – at timers – our humble Liturgy, with our small congregation, was almost drowned out by mass in the church below, we endeavoured in our celebration, praying for the brothers and sisters of our community and commemorating those remembered by those at Liturgy.
After the Liturgy, we were pleased to continue the usual local custom of refreshments in the Norton Room of the Anglican Shrine, and the afternoon was blessed by the arrival of Father Mark and his family from Mettingham, with a visit to the former monastic church of St Seraphim with the young brothers of our parish who have been introduced to Walsingham. Though we only sat in silence, it was good to spend time praying together in a place which was – for so many years – a sanctuary of monastic prayer and a place of asceticism and spiritual labour.
Sadly, during early-evening confessions, news reached us of the death of Archpriest Raphael, the priest-caretaker of the little Orthodox Chapel here, with telephones subsequently pinging with the sad tidings of his repose. Memory Eternal.
Given the concentration of Anglican services, it as been hard to find time for silent prayer in the recreated Holy House, at the heart of the shrine, though we hope to find an opportunity in the day ahead, when a few of us will also visit the Sipper Capel and hopefully the parish church with its medieval screen-paintings.
Our faithful are assured of our prayers, here, and we are carrying the parish commemoration books to remember all who are usually commemorated at Liturgy.
May the Mother of God – Our Lady of Walsingham – intercede for us and preserve us beneath her merciful protection.
In Christ – Hieromonk Mark