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Walsingham Pilgrimage

Year 10 RE students have an annual visit to Walsingham in  Norfolk. Katie Brown describes the trip:

Walsingham is famed for its religious shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary and attracts around 250,000 pilgrims each year, as individuals or as parish groups accompanied by their priest. It also contains the ruins of two medieval monastic houses. So, the trip was a great opportunity for students to enhance their knowledge on the Christian faith and experience first-hand the significance of the holy site that pilgrims have visited for centuries.

Once arriving at Walsingham, we were greeted and welcomed to the shrine by staff Pauline Lovelock and Geoff Arden. They both did an excellent job of guiding us around the historic sites and involving us in the various activities that pilgrims do when they come to Walsingham. We were first walked through the outside area of the chapel of reconciliation (Roman Catholic); when the number of pilgrims exceeds the capacity of the Chapel, the panelling at the back of the sanctuary can be opened up and the altar becomes the focal point for pilgrims gathered in the Shrine grounds. Then we were lead into the Slipper Chapel (dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria) which served pilgrims on their way to England’s Nazareth. Saint Catherine was the patron saint of pilgrims to the Holy Land and her knights kept open the road to Nazareth during the Crusades. The beautiful stained glass windows frame the several images of Mary decorate the Slipper Chapel.

After leaving the Slipper chapel, students continued to the inside of the Chapel of reconciliation, The building of this Chapel of Our Lady of Reconciliation began in September 1980 to replace an open-air altar. The Chapel was blessed by Cardinal Hume in 1981 at the National Pilgrimage and it was consecrated by Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia on May 22nd 1982. The style of the barn was taken from Norfolk farms to try to blend in with the local architecture. When inside the chapel, students got the chance to look around at the altar, tabernacle and other features of the chapel as well as listen to Geoff &/Pauline about the chapel and other aspects of the Christian faith.

Every day at Walsingham, pilgrim groups walk in procession along the Holy Mile, students also got the opportunity to do this and enjoyed the countryside scenery. We were encouraged whilst on the walk to think and reflect as that is what many pilgrims do when on the walk. We soon reached the end of the holy mile and made a quick visit in the Chapel of St Seraphim (Orthodox)-here we got to experience another denomination of Christianity and take in the different methods/rituals. We continued walking through the quaint streets and eventually arrived at the Anglican Shrine, close to the ruins of the original medieval Priory. The present-day Shrine was gradually created in 1931 from derelict farm buildings and cottages, with a brand new Shrine Church in the south-east corner of the site. After an interesting talk about the shrine and gardens, students took a walk through the Serpentine Path, filled with sensory plants the gardens have always played an important part in the pilgrimage programme, for processions of Our Lady, for outdoor services using the garden alter, or as a quiet space for meditation and reflection.

Then, we were taken to the Barn chapel, a modern, peaceful building part of the new Refectory and café-bar-two neighbouring buildings both in a poor state were restored and refurbished to create a small chapel suitable for pilgrim groups to use. Inside, everyone was given a reflection booklet amongst other items and discovered the various ways of finding silence. Whether that be through listening to music, sketching, painting, lighting a candle and many more. The whole experience was a great revision tool for students to use in their course.

Finally, after a quick lunch refuel, we ventured out to the last shrine. At its heart is the Holy House, a replica of the house in Nazareth where Mary heard from the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Each student also got to light a candle here if they wanted to. The walls of the church are richly decorated with murals many of which were designed and painted by Enid Chadwick, a talented artist and supporter of Fr Patten who lived in the village for many years. Work by the celebrated church architect Sir Ninian Comper can also be found in the church by the three stained glass windows, the Holy House altar and two sets of vestments. There are daily celebrations of the Eucharist, Evening prayer and Shrine prayers carried out at the shrine. Students got to experience the Sprinkling service. On entering the shrine one of the first things you see is a memorial tomb to Fr Patten next to the steps which lead down to the well. The well was rebuilt and incorporated into the Shrine Church and the healing service of sprinkling added to the Shrine’s liturgy. After a few words from the Priest, we made our way down the steps and drank some of the holy water from a ladle, got the cross marked in the water on our heads, and had the water poured into our hands.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the trip, not only did it give us an experience of what pilgrims do, but it taught us valuable information on the faith which will certainly help to strengthen the students’ knowledge.

Thank you very much to Mrs Miller for organising and leading the trip, Miss Ward, Mrs Reader and everyone at Walsingham for welcoming us so warmly and guiding us throughout the day.

Bassingbourn Village College

South End, Bassingbourn, Royston, Hertfordshire, SG8 5NJ

01763 242344