A Paschal Pilgrimage to Walsingham

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός ἀνέστη!

I have been very fortunate to make a pilgrimage to Walsingham for a few days, celebrating the altar-feast of the Orthodox chapel of the Life-Giving Spring.

The Mother of God appeared to Richeldis (Rychold), Lady of the Manor of Walsingham in the 11th century, commanding her to build a replica of the original Holy House of Nazareth, later dismantled and rebuilt in Loreto, in Italy, after the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land.

The great shrine and priory, which developed around the chapel of the Holy House was endowed through royal patronage and was renowned throughout Europe, but despite its sanctity and fame it fell victim to the ravages of the reformation and the destruction of the holy places by King Henry VIII and his henchmen.

The 19th century saw the restoration of Roman Catholic pilgrimage to Walsingham, based in the Slipper Chapel, and the 20th century saw the restoration of Anglican religious life around a newly built Holy House and shrine complex.

The founder of the restored Anglican shrine, Father Alfred Hope Paten, was encouraged to engage with the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile by Father Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton, vicar of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, who had travelled in Russia before the revolution, visiting holy places and holding theological discussions with some of the leading churchmen of the time. Despite his advanced Papalist Anglo-Catholicism, he was a great admirer of Orthodoxy and a friend and supporter of the exiled faithful, including the first hierarch of the Church in Exile, Metropolitan Antoniy of Kiev and Galych.

The Orthodox presence in the shrine has been developed over the years by a series of remarkable Orthodox figures, including Archimandrite Nicholas Gibbes (former tutor to the Tsarevich Alexei), Archbishop Nestor of Kamchatka, Archbishop Sava of Grodno, St Nikolai Velimirovich, Archbishop Nikodem, and the pioneer of iconography of British saints, Archimandrite David.

Our diocese and its clergy have been involved in spiritual life here since the earliest years of the Anglican shrine, when emigré Russians made pilgrimages to this corner of Norfolk to honour the Mother of God.

The intended free-standing Russian Orthodox chapel was never built, but the little chapel in use since 1941 and consecrated by Archbishop Sava on the Sunday of Pentecost in 1944, remains a place of Orthodox prayer and worship, occupying a landing on above the south aisle of the Anglican shrine church.

Now that Father Philip Steer is unable to serve in the chapel of the Life-Giving Spring, the Orthodox presence is maintained by Mother Melangell, who has a house-skete in the village. There is a Russian-tradition parish of the Patriarchate of Constantinople a short distance away, based in the Church of the Transfiguration in Great Walsingham, and the former monastic-brotherhood church of St Seraphim survives, though sadly bereft of services for most of the year.

We are greatly blessed that Orthodox prayer is offered in Walsingham EVERY day, even if the Liturgy is not celebrated in the shrine very often.

It is a joy to celebrate and pray in the shrine, especially in the evenings, when the church is quiet. The Holy House, dedicated to the Annunciation and built to replace that destroyed by the reformers of the 16th century is a special place to pray the akathist hymn to the Mother of God.

There were many intentions for which to pray during the short pilgrimage, and the culmination of this prayer was our Liturgy for the feast of the Mother of God, the Life-Giving Spring, a short distance from her holy well within the shrine-church.

It was a privilege to be with our local friends, including parishioners from Walsingham, Cambridge and Norwich, to meet local supporters of the Martha and Mary Convent in Moscow, and to share a Paschal lunch in the orangery after the Liturgy – welcoming two Ukrainian pilgrims who visited that day, not knowing that there would be an Orthodox presence.

We very much look forward to returning in the summer and autumn, knowing that the Mother of God continues to pour out her grace on this shrine and the many pilgrims who honour her in England’s Nazareth.