The Orthodox Chapel That Could Have Been

Though I have never seen photographs, some of the elders within our diocese recall the apse that was started in Walsingham, remaining incomplete – never to be part of an Orthodox Chapel that was conceived and planned to adjoin the south aisle of the Anglican shrine church, in the garden of St Augustine’s, where the confessional rooms now stand.

The ground had been blessed by Metropolitan Seraphim of the Russian Church in Exile (as our ROCOR was then called), though I am still searching in ‘Our Lady’s Mirror’ from the 1930’s to find when.

It would be wonderful to see drawings and plans of the intended chapel, whose construction was prevented by the outbreak of war.

The ‘temporary’ chapel within the shrine church – in which we are still celebrating – adjoins the proposed site, and has been in use since 1941, when it was used by both Eastern European prisoners of war from a nearby camp, and the Free-Polish armed forces.

It was consecrated by Archbishop Sava of Grodno on Trinity-Pentecost 1945) not 1944 as incorrectly repeated on the internet), and St Nikolaj Velimirovic served in this little chapel during his Walsingham convalescence, after the Second World War.

The original dedication of the chapel was in honour of the icon of ‘The Mother of God, of Perpetual Succour’, as can be seen on the foundation document. It was much later that the dedication was changed to the ‘Life-Giving Spring’, and this seems to have had no canonical sanction or official status.

Having celebrated the feast of the Holy Equal to the Apostles, St Vladimir in the ‘temporary’ chapel, yesterday, on the very hand-drawn antimension that was placed on the Holy Table on that day, we are aware of how blessed Orthodox pilgrims are to be continuing as part of the ‘Orthodox story’ of Walsingham, treading where holy men have gone before them.

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.

Bright Week – Christ is Risen!

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе! Hristos a înviat! Χριστός ἀνέστη!

On this Feast of the Iveron icon of the Mother of God, I am travelling to Walsingham to celebrate the altar-feast of the Orthodox shrine chapel of the Life-Giving Spring, on Friday.

The last week has been one that has left us exhausted, but full of the joy of the resurrection after the mourning of Holy Friday and the stillness of Holy Saturday, as we contemplated the Saviour’s Body in Gethsemane, in the tomb.

I now look forward to a few days in Walsingham and praying in the Holy House and sepulchre, and serving in the shrine chapel, continuing the link that our diocese has had with the shrine and village since the 1930’s, when the pioneering Father Alfred Hope Paten championed the restored devotion to the Mother of God in this little Norfolk village, once the greatest centre of pilgrimage in pre-reformation Britain: England’s Nazareth.

After the week’s pilgrimage, I shall celebrate the Divine Liturgy of Thomas Sunday in Cheltenham on Saturday morning – hearing confessions from 09:15, before the Paschal Hours and Liturgy at 10:30.

We will begin the Hours later than usual, as the Paschal format is very short in comparison to the normal Hours.

We will celebrate in the United Reformed Church, Deep St, Prestbury, GL52 3AW.

To accommodate confessions, I would appreciate emails by Thursday please) and will stop in Cardiff on the way home from Cheltenham. I know that we have a few Cardiff parishioners that work on Saturdays, and we will make it possible for them to confess on Sunday, in addition to our parishioners from the other side of the Severn. Please email: otetzmark@hotmail.com

I would like to thank everyone who worked so incredibly hard for the success of Holy Week and Pascha, and express our profound gratitude to Father Dean and Georgina for the warmth with which we were welcomed to St Mary’s, which proved to be a wonderful place to celebrate, with its beautiful sanctuary and resonant acoustic.

I encourage everyone to pray the Paschal Canon everyday this week, preserving the joy of the Resurrection, and making the Paschal hymns part of each day’s prayer and devotion.

With love in the Risen Lord.

Hieromonk Mark