Walsingham, a quintessentially English place of pilgrimage in honour of the Mother of God, has paradoxically been the place of many people’s first encounter with the Orthodox Church.
For some, this encounter has been the first step, or else a stepping stone, on their personal pilgrimage to the Orthodox Christian Faith, as we know from our own community and its friends – including our very own starosta and our friend, Schema-Hierodeacon Antony
In that sacred place, the Mother of God appeared in a dream to Richold de Faverches, the Lady of the Manor, in 1056, instructing her to build a chapel according to the dimensions of the Holy House of Nazareth – measurements proved to be correct in the course of history with the translation of the Holy House to Loreto in Italy.
The shrine became a place of countless miracles and throughout the Middle Ages the Holy House and priory at Walsingham were the most important shrine in England, known as England’s Nazareth, benefitting from royal patronage, including that of Henry VIII: tragically the author of its desecration and spoliation.
But, Walsingham’s story is one of resurrection, proving that the veneration of the Mother of God could not be obliterated in these islands, with both restored Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines becoming places of prayer and pilgrimage, and the amazing legacy of Father Alfred Hope Paten continuing to touch the lives of Orthodox Christian pilgrims year after year.
Our Russian Orthodox forebears, exiles with a great love for the Mother of God, became part of this story of renewal in 1938 when the extended Anglican shrine was consecrated, and Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka celebrated the Hierarchical Liturgy at the church’s high altar.
In the next decade, after the war, St Nikolai Velimirovic served in the shrine church whilst living in the College and convalescing after his liberation from Dachau.
Though the intended Orthodox Church was never built adjacent to the shrine church, pilgrims will be familiar with the little upstairs Orthodox Chapel consecrated on Pentecost-Trinity 1945.
The former monastery of St Seraphim, now sadly little more than a museum, played a pivotal role in the development of the veneration of the saints of Britain through the iconographic labours of Archimandrite David and his spiritual son and successor, Leon Liddament of blessed memory.
For some of us, Walsingham has a very special place in our lives and we greatly look forward to pilgrimages, despite its distance from South Wales. When we are there, we feel the reality of the Mother of God’s maternal care, protection and intercession.
With the blessing of His Grace, Bishop Irenei, I have been able to make pilgrimages and celebrate services in the Chapel of the Life-Giving Spring, in the Anglican shrine-church three or four times a year – usually with the support and good-ministrations of Norman and Georgina, but also through our inclusion in local pilgrimage by Father Dean, and also on parish pilgrimage with members of our South Wales communities.
Whilst worshipping and meeting in the chaplaincy, at Newman Hall, we sustained our ‘Walsingham devotions’ to the Mother of God in the Little Oratory of Newman Hall, with its beautiful Walsingham Icon of the Mother of God. But, that ceased when we were no longer able to worship there with the change of chaplain.
Our local Anglican friends sustain their devotions through their Cell of Our Lady of Walsingham, and I very much hope that – in a similar way – those in our community who love Walsingham and its shrine to the Mother of God (and those who simply wish to deepen their devotion to the Mother of God) may wish to come together regularly to offer devotions and intercessions for the needs of the Church, of our community and the world.
We have not come together to chant the akathist to the Mother of God in honour of her Walsingham Icon since our exodus from Newman Hall in 2020, and my hope and prayer is that we may soon remedy this, as well as looking forward to a parish pilgrimage, introducing new pilgrims to ‘England’s Nazareth.’
As I look forward to serving in Walsingham in Cheese-Fair week, I hope that discussions over the next few weeks may prove fruitful and find others who wish to share in local devotions.