24 September: Franciscans in Walsingham

Our Lady of Walsingham

This is the beginning of an interesting article by Ellen Teague in Saint Anthony’s Messenger Magazine, setting the Franciscans’ return to Walsingham and their ministry there in their historical and ecumenical context. Today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham.

IF YOU have ever visited Walsingham, England’s National Marian Shrine, you may have noticed a ruined friary standing on a small hill outside the village. This Franciscan Friary was built in the mid-14th century and flourished for nearly two centuries, until the dissolution of religious houses under King Henry VIII. Over the last five centuries, the friars of the order which served there until the 1530s  – the Order of Franciscan Friars Conventual, more commonly known as Greyfriars – never forgot Walsingham. They have prayed for friars buried there, for those who had caused the destruction of this holy place, and for the day when Greyfriars would return to Walsingham.

There were great celebrations then on 19 March 2018 when a small group of Greyfriars formally returned to Walsingham, to be based in the centre of the town; it was the solemnity of the Feast of St Joseph. Friar Marco Tasca, Minister General of the Greyfriars, attended from Rome. He said the friars aim to a prophetic sign of dialogue and reconciliation to the world today, ministering to Walsingham’s many pilgrims just as they did five centuries ago.

Ancient pilgrimage

Pilgrims have flocked to the small Norfolk village of Little Walsingham since the 11th century to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was in the Anglo-Saxon village pre-dating the Norman invasion that a devout English Lady, Richeldis de Faverches, experienced three visions in 1061 in which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her. In these visions Richeldis was shown the house of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and was requested to build a replica of it. Mary is said to have promised that, “whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.” In Medieval times, when travelling abroad became difficult because of the Crusades, Walsingham evolved into a place of great Christian importance and pilgrimage, ranking alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. The popularity of Walsingham was boosted since it was impossible for Christians to visit Nazareth itself, which was in Saracen hands.

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Filed under Autumn, Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

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