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Reflective trip to Walsingham

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

Walsingham is notable 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 of the Christian faith and experience first-hand the significance of the holy site that pilgrims have visited for centuries.

On 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. As well as this we were greeted by Joe, who is a trainee priest doing a theology degree, which was really interesting as it gave us an insight as to how we can further our religious studies in the future.

We 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.

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, whilst feeling very calm and relaxed. 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 short visit in the Chapel of St Seraphim (Orthodox). Here we got to experience another denomination of Christianity and take in the different methods and rituals. We continued walking through the quaint streets and eventually arrived at the Anglican Shrine, close to the ruins of the original medieval Priory.

After lunch, 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, which was a great opportunity. Our candles were put alongside many others that were lit by other visitors, who made a prayer on things that were close to their heart and this was quite moving to see.

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.

At the end of our trip we got to experience a daily service of sprinkling at the well, which is attended by thousands throughout the year. Water from the ancient well within the shrine church is used to sign a cross on the forehead, given as a drink and poured over outstretched hands as a sign of God’s healing. 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.

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 and was a great opportunity to relax and have a stress free day. I will definitely return!

Thank you very much to Mrs Miller for organising and leading the trip, Miss Harris, 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