The Orthodox Christian Shrine of
Our Lady of Walsingham
Retold by the Rt. Rev’d Archimandrite Daniel Keller
The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is the most renowned sanctuary of the Mother of God in the whole of the British Isles.
Walsingham itself is a village in a remote part of East Anglia some 125 miles from London. Here in the year 1061, (when England was still considered part of the One Orthodox Catholic Church) Richeldis, Lady of the Manor, received a vision in the fields near her home. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and carried her in spirit to Nazareth. There, Our Lady showed her the little house where the Annunciation took place, and directed her to construct an exact copy. In confirmation of this vision, a spring of water suddenly appeared at Richeldis’ feet.
Richeldis obeyed, and so a chapel, after the model of the Holy House
at Nazareth, was built beside the spring in honor of the mystery of the
Incarnation. By God’s blessing Walsingham grew into a great
center of prayer. Pilgrims came not only from distant parts of England
or Scotland but from all over Europe, to pray before the venerable image
of God’s Mother in the Holy House, and to drink from the waters of
England’s Nazareth, as it was called, became
famous for miracles of healing.
In 1538, during the Reformation under King Henry VIII, the Shrine was closed by force and destroyed. The image of Our Lady was publicly burnt and the Holy Well blocked up with rubbish. The Shrine Church disappeared so completely that its exact site was forgotten.
Then, after four centuries of neglect, the Shrine was restored once more, largely through the dedicated efforts of one man—the Anglican Vicar of Walsingham, Father A. Hope Patten (†1958). In 1921 he placed in his parish church an image of Our Lady, a copy of the ancient one that stood formerly in the Holy House. Ten years later a piece of land was acquired in the village, and the Holy House was rebuilt. When the workmen were clearing the ground for the foundations, they unearthed an ancient well, together with some medieval foundations, corresponding closely to the measurements of the Holy House built by Richeldis. Thus, it seems that Father Hope Patten and his helpers were guided by God to rebuild the Holy House on exactly the same spot as that on which it once stood. On October 15, 1931 the image of the Mother of God was transferred from the parish church to the restored Holy House, and there it has since remained. In 1937–8, the Shrine Church was greatly enlarged.
The Mother of God is honored at Walsingham not only by Anglicans and Roman Catholics, but by Orthodox as well. Before World War 11, Archbishop Seraphim, of the Russian Orthodox Church in Paris, blessed a plot of land close to the nave of the Shrine Church, where it is hoped one day to establish a permanent place for Orthodox worship (this chapel has not so far been built). In 1938, at the consecration of the enlarged Shrine Church, a delegation from the Russian Church was present, led by Archbishop Nestor and Archimandrite Nicolas Gibbes. Then at Pentecost, 1944, a temporary chapel within the walls of the Anglican Shrine was blessed by Archbishop Sava of Grodno, of the Polish Orthodox Church. This continues to be used by Orthodox pilgrims. Although small, it has an icon screen and all the features necessary for Eastern Orthodox worship.
Among the Orthodox who visited the Shrine after the war was the saintly Serbian Bishop, Nicholai Velimirovich. For several years a Serbian priest, Father Nadjanovich lived permanently at Walsingham. Since 1961 there have been regular Greek Orthodox pilgrimages. In 1964, the Orthodox Confraternity of Our Lady of Walsingharn was set up, under the patronage of Metropolitan Athenagoras, with Greek, Russian, Serbian, and English Orthodox representatives on the Council.
In the United States, on April 8, 1995, the Guardians of the Orthodox Christian Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham met for the first time and established the Society and plans for the building of a Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham in America. The Society’s purpose is to encourage prayer and devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham, to organize and encourage pilgrimages to the Shrine in America, as well as the Shrine in Walsingham, England. The Society and the effort to build the Shrine have received the blessing and encouragement of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and His Grace Bishop Kallistos (Timothy Ware) of Oxford, England. Metropolitan Philip has also expressed his willingness to place the Shrine Church and Chapel under his omaphorion.
The Society is open to all Orthodox Christians, and they are warmly
urged to join the Orthodox Christian Society of Our Lady of Walsingham.
For more information about the Society, or if you wish to be a member, please contact: