Our small group of pilgrims was led by Fr John Cornish: four people from Holy Trinity, and two friends from other parishes. Some of us travelled to Walsingham by car, some by train and bus. Setting off on the journey is an essential part of any pilgrimage. From north London to north Norfolk is a distance of about 130 miles. The countryside of East Anglia looked as lovely as ever in the sunshine despite the very dry summer.
Walsingham is a small rural place in north Norfolk, about 5 miles south of the coast, with the town of Wells-next-the-Sea nearby. The Anglican shrine is a place of peace and tranquillity, with a fine pilgrim church and various chapels. The gardens are a lovely place to relax and reflect on our journey, and they are also an essential place for prayer and procession. This year, 2022, sees the 100th anniversary of the modern pilgrimage cycle at the Anglican shrine, because Fr Hope Patten began anew the devotions to Mary at Walsingham from 1922. Of course, Walsingham had been a venerable place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, famous throughout Europe, until it was suppressed under Henry VIII in 1538. Walsingham also has a Roman Catholic shrine, and churches of other denominations in the village.
The theme of “the journey” stayed with us throughout the weekend, as we followed the Way of the Cross, or Stations of the Cross, on Saturday morning, and as we joined in holy processions for the Blessed Sacrament on Sunday afternoon, and for Mary, Mother of Christ, on Saturday evening. Fr Cornish led our prayers at the Stations of the Cross, as we followed Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, His sacrifice for us to redeem us. As we sang the beautiful Stabat Mater hymn, it helped us to see the Passion from Mary’s viewpoint, her sorrow and anguish. We also think about the suffering of others in our parish and neighbourhood, and pray for their intentions.
At Walsingham, Mary is our constant guide, example, our intercessor and our consolation. At the Procession of Our Lady on Saturday evening, “we journey together as God’s people from earth to heaven” (Walsingham Pilgrim Manual, p.57). The image of Our Lady of Walsingham is carried in procession. We process with our friends and fellow pilgrims, but we also think of our friends and family back home, of their needs and their intentions. We pray for our clergy and parish, and for all those for whom we have been asked to pray, in our Saturday morning Mass, celebrated by Fr Cornish in the Barn Chapel.
On Sunday afternoon, the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament put the focus on Jesus, who leads us in our faith. As we follow in this procession, we think of his presence in our lives, and how we will keep and share this on our return home at the end of our pilgrimage.
Another prayer is the Sprinkling at the Well, which was on Sunday afternoon. We hear the words of the Psalm “As the deer longs for the water brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God”. Pilgrims are invited to be gently sprinkled with water from the Well by the Holy House: a sip of water to drink, the sign of the cross on the forehead, and water poured into our hands. The sprinkling at the well is particularly poignant in this long hot summer of drought in England, as we pray for those at risk of water shortage in their life and work, and for the countless wild creatures in our environment who need the refreshing life-giving qualities of water.
We were very fortunate, yet again, to have Fr Cornish as our pilgrimage organiser and leader. He greeted us warmly when we arrived, guided us with great care through the whole weekend, and joined us at table for all our meals together. Fr Cornish celebrated with us our final visit to the Holy House, and wished us well as we set out on our journey home.