Pilgrimage: Lament for Walsingham: The Destruction

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The destruction of the Priory and Shrine at Walsingham was repeated throughout the land. 800 monasteries, priories and abbeys were present before the destruction,  very few survived. Monasteries and shrines were torn down, burnt, the relics and works of art and any valuables carefully looted by the cartloads and transported to Henry V111’s treasure stores-well most of them anyway. Some were removed in advance and hidden, a very dangerous act, punishable by instant death if discovered…and I have no doubt people being what people are, a few got ‘relocated’ along the way by opportunists.

It is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend what this national attack did to the average English psyche. There was little joy in most people’s lives, life was routine, often dreary and filled with constant work and rules. The promise of a better life to come was a deep source of comfort, even the notion of…

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Walsingham: The Original Shrine and Priory

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Firstly a big welcome to the Sisters  now reading this blog, that I was informed of yesterday by another mystical sister of mine…you know who you all are! Knowing you are there sustains and strengthens me, please keep me in your prayers. x

I have enjoyed the Shrine, the beautiful church and all that it has to offer. But I also want to get as close to the original Shrine as possible. I need to walk where the Canons walked, and where Catherine of Aragon offered her prayers and wept her tears. I make my way to the heavy wooden doors that lead me into the Abbey Gardens and firstly just wander through their little museum, full of curiosities and an unassuming little gift shop staffed by women who know this place inside out and are bursting with love and pride for the original Abbey they are custodians of. The entrance is the…

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Pilgrimage: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and The Dowry of England

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Now, following my two solitary hours at St Seraphim’s,  I am ready, I am, as some would say “in the zone”. Preparation is important.  I wander down to the rebuilt present day Shrine and enter another world. The original shrine, house and Priory was destroyed in 1538 on the orders of Henry V111 and for four hundred years organised pilgrimage to Walsingham ceased. The position of that original shrine and house is now bare grass in the ruins of the Abbey Gardens and I have photos of that to come in later posts. It is there, that the original medieval pilgrims visited. Religious intolerance destroys more than it can ever create, a lesson we should remember. But I have no doubt that for the ordinary folk, especially women, the shrine even though it could not be seen as publicly acknowledged any longer, was still held in love and prayer and this was handed down and thus…

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Pilgrimage: Walsingham,The Village And Chapel of St Seraphim

I am off to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne this coming weekend, so will now get these final posts on Walsingham reblogged out onto All About Pilgrimage…and then I can start posting on Lindisfarne when I get back and have zillions of photos and experiences and feelings to share!

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After a wonderful breakfast I venture out to see the village first and my destination is also the beautiful little Orthodox Church. There is also an Orthodox chapel in the Shrine Church, the Orthodox presence in Our Lady of Walsingham’s Shrine is twinned with St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, for regular followers of this blog they will know this is where my dear Father Lazarus lives. So I wanted to go “on his behalf” too and say some prayers there. When we pray together anywhere in this world, notions such as distance and time are meaningless and irrelevant. We pray as One Body in Christ, ever present.

These are some photos of the village itself. The village of Little Walsingham is thought to be an early planned town with streets laid out on a grid during the 13th century [1200’s] in order to build accommodation and provide for increasing numbers of pilgrims. The original…

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Englands Nazareth: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

Walsingham today seems remote, reached along slow country roads, tucked into an obscure fold in the Norfolk landscape, but once it was one of the foremost pilgrimage places in Europe before the Reformation. The founding of the priory in about 1135 stimulated the development of Walsingham which grew along with the increasing number of pilgrims. Every monarch of England from Henry 111 in 1226 to Henry V111 came. Then came the dissolution and destruction of the Priory and its shrine in 1538, followed by a period of abrupt decline, until the revival of modern pilgrimage emerged from what became known as the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, beginning in the 19th Century with the aim of restoring early church and pre-Reformation practise including pilgrimage. It’s story and its endurance is a remarkable phenomenon in our times, symbolising the enduring pull and spirit of shrines and pilgrimages. To cover Walsingham and do it justice will require several posts, so here is the first, written in part from my diaries of impressions at the time, illustrated with photographs I took when there.

The date usually given for the medieval shrine at Walsingham is 1061. The tale is told in a single copy of a ballad preserved in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge.  The writer is unknown, it is called the Pynson Ballad after its printer Richard Pynson published it in 1496. In 21 verses, the balladeer describes the building of the original shrine chapel in 1061, by a ‘noble wydowe’, Richaeldis de Faverche, as a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth, following instructions given to her in visions by the Virgin herself. The Ballad does describe vividly the intensity of devotion towards the chapel and shrine, with its statue of Our Lady, relic of her milk, and healing waters. The statue of the Virgin seated with the Christ Child on her lap, and holding a stem of lily as a sceptre which is seen on the Priory Seal and pilgrim badges, is thought to have been from the mid 12th century.

Tradition has it that in 1061 Mary appeared in a vision to a noble Saxon noblewoman and took her in spirit to the house of Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel had asked her to become the Mother of Jesus. Mary asked Richeldis to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham, saying, “all who seek me there will find succour“. This became known as the Holy House and pilgrims flocked to it. Walsingham is known as “England’s Nazareth”

The priory of Walsingham was founded by Geoffrey de Faverche in around 1153, as an Augustine priory, specifically to care for the chapel founded by his mother shortly beforehand. I drive into the little town, that I have visited many times, and pull up in the centre. It feels good. My husband suggests on the phone that The Bull Inn looks rather good for a B&B and I can see its appeal right in front of me as I stand talking to him.

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Two women stand outside smoking and I approach them asking if they have room at the Inn. I am met with a warmth and welcome that confirms I am going to enjoy this. I book for 3 nights. The room at the Inn costs me slightly more than the medieval rate but at least nowadays I do have my own bed. In the fourteenth century a bed cost a penny a head, less than the price of a simple meal, but for that, one would share that bed with two or three others at least. Then as now, guests grumbled about ‘extortionate rates.’ Well, I am not grumbling. I consider my rates for this beautiful Inn very reasonable indeed.  The building fascinates me, an open fire in the main drinking room, a beautiful guests room upstairs with views over the square and its old timbered buildings. It is old, so many hundreds of pilgrims must have stayed here over centuries. They are within the very fabric of the building and residue warmth and laughter remain.  Suddenly I relax, and know I am in the right place.

The Priory owned at least twenty of the pilgrim hostels in the town, today the village has just two remaining pubs with long histories. The Black Lion dates from around 1310 and is said to have been built to accommodate King Edward 111 who made many pilgrimages to Walsingham, and took its name from the coat of arms of his wife Phillipa of Hainault. The Bull, which is my chosen hostel is the other old one, in the central position in the village facing the Common Place and adjoins the Abbey Grounds. It dates from the 1400’s and possibly earlier.

As the evening drew on and after a good meal, I wandered out to the back of the pub where a marquee was set up. A snooker table took up one half of the space towards the back, and at the entrance were old leather sofas, begging to be snuggled in;  wicker chairs, a huge old wood table in the centre and a gas burner which made the whole place cosy and welcoming. There the pilgrims like myself sat, laughing, talking, mixing, and my mind somersaulted as I sat quietly drinking it all in, feeling that I really had entered a time warp. This could have been the scene of any year for the past 1000 years…ordinary people, all with their own private reasons for pilgrimage, all with our own hopes and fears and expectations, just being people together in a strange place, getting along. The camaraderie was palpable, the glasses chinked and as more alcohol was consumed, and we warmed in subject and in body temperature, the mood relaxed as did the tongues, and the groups of conversations differed between religious, bawdy, confessional and counselling. All backgrounds, all life was there in this small group of 20 or so people. Priests and lay mixed with no difference. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, the curious, the unsure, converts, and ones who defied categorisation.

There were those that believed in life after death and those who did not, some who saw aliens as being “the answer”, others who gently mocked such ideas. Some believed wholeheartedly in the physical Resurrection, others saw it as symbolic… some thought women should be priests full stop, others saw it as heresy… but all talked, debated, and shared. It was a joy to behold. One of the main gifts of Pilgrimage because within that diversity you realise that you too have your own little space, your own slot that creates the whole ongoing debate and question of the mystery of Christianity. It continues to be revealing through time, it is not fixed and stagnant. It still evolves just as we do and there is a space for all of us within it. And that is the living stories of Canterbury Tales. I was seeing it in living action. At one point I just sat back absorbing it all, and felt the wonder of the experience. We had created bonds. We had a common link that we would explore over the next couple of days. Living Faith.

We had all come to metaphorically place something at the Shrine, a prayer for healing for oneself or another maybe, a prayer for deepening faith, the hope for a miracle within ones life, perhaps an act of memorial of someone dear to us, or a thanksgiving for our life or something that has been granted us, or maybe we are asking forgiveness, or intercession or simply for peace. This we share with all pilgrims of all ages, the one thing that none of us are likely to be doing it for nowadays is to avoid our taxes. In medieval times, pilgrimage offered two unusual benefits that are not relevant today.

He that be a pilgrim’, declared the London preacher Richard Alkerton in 1406, ‘oweth first to pay his debts, afterwards to set the house in governance, and afterwards to array himself and take leave of his neighbours, and so go forth.’ Pilgrims enjoyed the special privilege of disposing of their property by will, a privilege which until the late Middle Ages was accorded to very few. Heirs would be named, and the will would state things such as how long he should be missing before presumed dead that his wife may remarry. A second benefit of pilgrimage was as follows. In his absence, a pilgrims property was immune from all civil claims in a court of law. The service he owed his feudal lord was suspended during his time of pilgrimage.  In the Papal bull Quantum Praedeccssores of December 1145, Eugenius 111 proclaimed that the wife and children, goods and chattels of every pilgrim or crusader were ‘placed under the protection of the Holy See and all of the prelates of the Church of God. By our apostolic authority we absolutely forbid anyone to disturb them until their return or death.’

On his way home, a pilgrim usually wore a badge or token showing where he had been. It was the formal sign that the pilgrims vow had been fulfilled. Much travelled pilgrims would cover the brims of their hats with badges until their heads were bowed beneath the weight of the lead. Langland’s pilgrim had:

‘An hundredth of ampulles on his hatt seten,

Signes of Synay and shelles of Galice

And many a cruche on his cloke and keyes of Rome

And the vernicle bifore; for men shulde knowe

And se bi his signes whom he sought had.

Perhaps now we do not go to quite such great lengths, but who can resist a token of their visit? For them, the Pilgrims shop in Walsingham is a treasure trove. Then as now we desire to take something tangible home with us as well as the spiritual gifts we receive.

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Are we really so different to our ancestors? Tomorrow I would go the shrine.

Stained Glass and Gloucester Cathedral

Stained Glass has always absorbed me; and its origins stretch back 2000 years. Remains found at Pompeii and Herculaneum show us that wealthy Romans were using it in their villas and palaces in the first century AD. Coloured glass was also in use in early Egyptian times.

However, it begun to be regarded as an art form when Constantine first permitted Christians to worship openly in 313 AD and they began building churches based upon Byzantine models. The earliest surviving example we know of, comes from much later, a pictorial stained glass of the Head of Christ from the 10th century excavated from Lorsh Abbey in Germany. By the 9th and 10th centuries, as the demand for churches grew, so did the production of stained glass. At first colours were predominantly red and blue surrounded by white.

Between the 13th and 14th centuries, stained glass flourished as the expansion of immense window spaces demanded new approaches to fill them. Narrative now becomes important and complex juxtaposition of events are recorded in compartmental space. The emergence of the Rose Window at St Denis Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral have huge influences on the rest of Europe, in terms of depicting more complex ideas as embellishments in Biblical narrative now becomes prevalent. The Poor Mans Bible in Canterbury  Cathedral, dating from the 13th century is a good example of this. The term Poor Man’s Bible has come into use in modern times to describe works of art within churches and cathedrals which either individually or collectively have been created to illustrate the teachings of the Bible for a largely illiterate population. The Poor Mans Bible window at Canterbury is shown below.

Poor Mans Bible

Towards the end of the 13th century grisaille glazing started to become popular, for example York Minster’s Five Sisters Windows. This medium was first favoured by the Cistercian Order under St Bernard, who found that the figurative windows ‘distracted monks from religious responsibility.’ Between the 15th and 17th centuries artists arose from obscurity and began to be patronised by a new wealthy mercantile class. Glass work was no longer anonymous and a taste for rich jewel like colour combined with open space no longer constrained by architectural divisions plus a new increase in secular usage reflects new riches. During the 16th century a rise in the production of glass panels for private contemplation and personal devotion began and the narrative stained glass window now serves as a moralising image. Five Sisters Window shown below.

Five Sisters window

Political upheavals and religious unrest jeopardized the survival of stained glass beginning in the 16th century. in 1547 the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered the destruction of all decorative glass in churches. In 1633, many of the glass factories in Lorraine, France were destroyed by war. From 1642 through until 1653 the Commonwealth of England destroyed thousands of stained glass windows. It is therefore quite a miracle that as many survived as they did. Now once again, stained glass is commissioned and gazed upon in wonder, lifting the spirits and aiding contemplation. Here is a picture depicting the destruction in Zürich in 1524.

Destruction in Zurich

How the Colours were achieved in Medieval Times:

Blue glass was made by adding cobalt to achieve a brilliant blue, and copper oxide produces a turquoise. A pale green is a typical colour of transparent glass, adding iron oxide results in a  blueish green, iron oxide and chromium produces a deep green similar to wine bottles, and these with tin oxide and arsenic yield emerald-green glass. Pure metallic copper gives a very dark red opaque glass, and metallic gold produces a rich ruby-red. For a brilliant red, selenium and cadmium sulphide are used together. Silver nitrate used as a stain applied to the surface of glass will produce a range of colours from orange-red to yellow. Calcium creates a deep yellow. Manganese gives an amethyst colour and has been used since early Egyptian history. Nickel produces blue, violet and even black glass. And finally white is achieved with tin oxide, antimony and arsenic oxides.

The photos below were taken in Gloucester Cathedral of some of the magnificent stained glass that caught my eye and imagination.  I hope you like them as much as I did. Stained glass tells a story, and does that in a most beautiful way.

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Pilgrimage: Gloucester Cathedral

I read somewhere once that a Pilgrimage is as much about the journey within as it is the geographical journey we make. In my own experience this is true. There is something very spiritual that occurs in this space between spaces, this journey we take where we think we know what our destination is and the reason why we wish to go there, that morphs into something very different to what we expected. It can take months and even years to fully absorb the changes that take place within us, culminating from that experience. It is almost a year since I stayed at Walsingham. I had not really intended to go there. I was actually en route to my family in Norfolk and had decided to stay in the Cotswolds, to see for the first ever time some of my family history on the ground, visit the places where my ancestors had lived and wanted to visit Gloucester Cathedral which one of my early ancestors founded. I flew down to Bristol, picked up my hire car and drove down to a B&B I had booked which sounded lovely at the time…and hated it! The atmosphere was all wrong, it was a beautiful property but I ended up confined to my room at 7pm by the landlady who made it quite clear she did not appreciate her guests being out after about 5pm, or sharing any part of the house other than the bedroom they were allocated. So, no sitting room, no walk in the garden and so on. As I sat in my cold draughty room, all the memories of being at boarding school and at countless residential care assignments came flooding back and I felt lost, lonely, abandoned and wondered why I had come at all. So this is the start of the pilgrimage, the journey to Walsingham when I had not even thought of going. Because I was booked for Gloucester. Best laid plans and all that!!

The next day I escaped very early to Gloucester Cathedral and loved it.  I took around 300 photos and was lost in the beauty of its space and stained glass and history. Pushing aside any thoughts of returning to my gloomy attic room at the B&B  which I had booked for 4 nights, I just enjoyed Gloucester utterly. Here are some photos of that visit.

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For about 70 years after King Edward 11 death, Gloucester Cathedral became a site of pilgrimage. The shrine was richly jewelled, royal family members sent precious stones, jewellery, a gold ear and heart, all of which probably hung from the shrine. King Edward 111 sent a model ship, made of gold which may have sat on the plinth at the front of the tomb. It is comforting to meditate upon what this pilgrimage meant to so many of them back then and to in a sense join with them as travellers through time, kneeling on the cold stone just as they did nearly 700 years ago. We human beings share all the same trials and troubles that our earlier ancestors did, pain, ill-health, worry about family members or work, war, hunger, love, death…their petitions would not have been so different from our own.   In 1378 Edward’s great-grandson King Richard 11 held Parliament here at Gloucester Cathedral; in those days Parliament moved around the country and was held where the King called it, rather than being in one fixed place.

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For those early visitors to Gloucester what a sense of awe and wonder they would have encountered as they entered such a space and light filled building, which contrasted so starkly to their own dark dingy homes filled with wood smoke and with no glass in their windows to reflect any light. This building in contrast would have been literally flooded with brilliant light. Cathedrals had acres of glass… The journey to a building such as this would have made them feel that they had a nearly reached heaven itself, that the monks and priests had somehow managed to touch God and win his approval, to be living in such a magnificent place as this. These men must be truly blessed by God. The sense of profound awe and indeed magic would have been overwhelming, with the smells of incense and chanting of the monks and their belief would grow that miracle cures could be gained, that their lives and families lives could be improved, that transformation of the humblest to the highest could be had through the mysterious knowledge and conversation between priest and God on their behalf. Very often their own local priests were ill educated themselves, but these men, these monks here in these magnificent places must have seemed like a whole world apart from their own reality. Their senses were flooded just like mine when I went into the Vatican; colour was everywhere. The walls were painted in bright reds, oranges, blues, greens and medieval people loved colour. Their own clothes were far more colourful than our own nowadays. The ritual was theatre that drew them in, it was a stage where one could be a part of it if one knew those chants and routines, the ritual almost invites you, pulls you into wanting to be on the inner circle of its magic. It is a bridge inviting, charming you to cross it, or stay outside of it, forever slightly on the outside if you do not.

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Pilgrims all had one overriding goal in mind as they made their journeys; the remission of sins. The penitential pilgrimage as a remission for sins began in the 6th century, it was unknown to the early church where the perpetual sinner was simply excluded and could only gain re-admittance on promising to lead an almost monastic existence for the rest of his days. The whole notion of penance was transformed by the Irish missionaries. Pilgrimage was much favoured by the Irish as a spiritual exercise. Public penance which often meant pilgrimage was imposed for public sins with overtones of scandal, notably sexual offenses by clergy. Rayond of Penaforte, a canonist wrote that penance was a useful punishment for” those scandalous and notorious sins which set the whole town talking”, when they were committed by layman the penance was described as ‘solemn’, when by clergy as ‘public’. Going on your pilgrimage was also a penance for sinning openly. In the province of Cologne a synod in 1279 recommended pilgrimages in cases involving any self-indulgence of any sort.

For those whose sins were well concealed or venial, the penitential pilgrimage remained an act of personal piety, voluntarily undertaken. After the end of the 10th century growing numbers of the humble as well as the mighty performed distant pilgrimages to expiate crimes that weighed on their consciences. The times were changing. From the end of the 10th century penitents were usually absolved and reconciled with the Church immediately after confession. Thus arose the new distinction between sin and punishment. Sin was now expunged by confession, punishment was to remain to be suffered in Purgatory. So pilgrimage was seen as an act that could lessen by good works, the amount of time to be spent in Purgatory.

And we can see these differences between what became the penitential pilgrim and the earlier Celtic wanderers of an earlier age who simply had a certain destination in mind, travelled there and returned home to resume a normal life. Now pilgrimage became a serious business of atonement with flogging along the way, and dragging of heavy burdens, fasting, lack of care for the physical body  and so on. Indeed I was surprised to find through family history research that many of my own ancestors died whilst on long pilgrimages to or from Jerusalem, attempting to atone presumably for their perceived sins. Pilgrimages for some of these souls became a development of the penalty of judicial exile, never staying more than one night in a place, destined to eternally wander. In the words of the Penitential of St Columban he was to be ‘like Cain a wanderer and a fugitive on the face of the earth, never to return to his native land.’

Photographs & Text (C) Stephanie 2012