Blood swept Lands and Seas of Blood, Tower of London, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies one for each of the British dead of the First World War will progressively fill the Tower’s famous moat.
In 1061, Our Lady heard the prayer of a Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, that she might undertake some special work for the Blessed Virgin. In return, Richeldis was presented with a vision of the ‘Holy House’, the house in Nazareth where the Annunciation took place. Our Lady asked Richeldis to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham, a small village in Norfolk, England.
After the vision was repeated three times, the house was miraculously constructed one night with materials provided by Richeldis, while Richeldis herself kept a vigil of prayer. ‘England’s Nazareth’ was born, and nearly 1,000 years later, pilgrims still come in large numbers to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Walsingham was one of the most popular sites of medieval pilgrimage, with both peasants and royalty flocking faithfully to the Marian shrine. However, Walsingham suffered badly during the Reformation in England, when King Henry VIII, himself formerly a pilgrim to this honoured shrine, gave orders for the shrine to be torn down and the neighbouring priory dissolved. The famous statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, housed in the Holy House since its original construction, was burnt under the accusation of idolatry.
At the turn of the 20th century, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the neighbouring Slipper Chapel sparked off an eventual restoration of the Walsingham shrine. Fr Patten, the Anglican Vicar of Walsingham, helped to renew Anglican interest in England’s great Marian shrine and was a pivotal figure in its restoration. A new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, a replica of the medieval original, was enshrined in the rebuilt Holy House.
Today, Mary’s shrine at Walsingham is aglow with candles lit by Christian pilgrims of various denominations, with both Catholic masses and Anglican services being celebrated in the Holy House. The Slipper Chapel is the center of Catholic prayer and worship in Walsingham, and notably served as one of the sites for the veneration of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux in October 2009. The sacraments are again alive at Walsingham, with Eucharistic adoration and confession being revived by the Youth 2000 movement.
Walsingham’s intense spiritual atmosphere has to be personally experienced; it is a sign of Mary’s enduring queenship in England, of the healing of our Christian past, and the hope we have for the reconversion of England. Pilgrims can pray ‘Hail Mary’ within walls just like those that echoed to the Angel Gabriel’s own ‘Ave Maria.’