Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The month of August began with a number of us going on pilgrimage to Walsingham. And it ended with our traditional sponsored walk on Bank Holiday Monday. For each event we were blessed with glorious weather and each one was enjoyed enormously by those taking part. Though nothing can surpass the importance of our sharing together in the Holy Mass, these events, like our parish lunches, quizzes and other social occasions, are an important part of our life together as a church family, though of course I appreciate that for various reasons not all of us are able to join in.
Many of our events, like the sponsored walk, are intended as fund raising activities, essential to support our mission here in South Wimbledon. Thank you to all of you who sponsored the walkers and who encouraged others to do so. But I am concerned that we should not focus exclusively on fund raising activities and we would welcome any suggestions you might have about other ways we might come together. I hope that many of you will be able to join us for our Harvest Lunch at the beginning of October.
I intended using my letter this month to write about our pilgrimage to Walsingham so that any of you who have not been there might like to consider joining us next year. But, instead, one of our pilgrims, Peter, has written a piece which follows my letter. I hope you enjoy reading it.
I trust that those of you who have been on holiday during August have returned refreshed. And for those of you still to go away, have a relaxing time with good weather.
Walsingham August 2019
No, Norfolk is not “very flat”. Had Amanda, who made the assertion in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, been to Walsingham, she would have found herself in gently hilly countryside, and perhaps managed to dispel another myth – Norfolk’s North Sea climate is far from perpetually chilly. When you’re next in Walsingham just look at the flourishing vineyard on the green hillside, along which, this year and last, we enjoyed sun-drenched walks between the Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines, among a forest of wild flowers and vividly coloured butterflies. One of our pilgrims has the pictures on her phone to prove it. Others chose the short bus ride to ice-creams at the Norfolk seaside.
In this clement climate, the gardeners who so skilfully tend the close at the Anglican Shrine manage to coax myriad blooms and exotic plants out of its fertile and sheltered gardens, including a row of olive-trees, sprouting real olives in an English August. These gardens are the setting for one of my favourite services of the pilgrimage, our parish Stations of The Cross, up and down the hilly lawns, the high point surmounted by three wooden crosses, representing Calvary, then culminating below in an eerily realistic tomb into which our pilgrim group could just squeeze, hoping there was no stone that could be rolled up against its entrance. [There isn’t!]
The centrepiece of this 20th Century restored Walsingham is the Holy House, a replica of the one in which The Annunciation occurred and in which the Holy Family lived. It was founded to memorialise the spot where The Blessed Virgin appeared to Lady Richeldis in 1061 and asked Richeldis to build such a replica; hence Walsingham’s title as England’s Nazareth. On an outside wall of the Holy House is a full-size and rather wonderful copy of the 15th Century plaque of the Annunciation in glazed blue and white terracotta, after the altarpiece in the church where St Francis of Assisi received the stigmata.
In the background to latter day Walsingham stands the ruined Abbey and, climbing the hillside, the Franciscan Friary, both, after the day-trippers have departed, daunting and jagged against the evening sky. Memento mori in perpetual stone. Like Glastonbury and Tintern Abbeys, they remain among the marks of a Tudor despot all over an England once known as Mary’s Dowry. Before his reign of terror, as a young man Henry VIII pilgrimaged to Walsingham, devoutly completing the final mile barefoot, though as a sour older man, perhaps in an Amanda-like mood, he ordered its despoliation. It lay in ruins from the 16th C, testament to political opportunism, greed and intolerant zeal.
Unlike Henry, we do not walk barefoot – well it hasn’t happened so far – but travel door-to-door in an air-conditioned, wi-fi equipped, Mercedes motor-coach. Nor do we endure the privations of Tabard-like inns, but enjoy – for the past two years at least – the luxury of en-suites and, on full-board, regular, well-prepared often locally-sourced dishes. Pilgrims from the Catholic Shrine have been known to come up to the Anglican Shrine for their meals, such is the quality of the fare. As well as the restaurant, the café-bar beneath serves food, not that any of us wanted any more, though many of our party enjoyed an after-dinner drink there. Speaking of parties, this year we organised one on Sunday evening, which coincided with the birthday of one of our number.
Above all there is something for everyone in the main object of any pilgrimage, the religious services. These fall into two categories. Firstly, our own, led by our own priest, which begin with our daily Mass, said in one of the many lovely chapels, including on one day this year in the beautiful, intimate Chantry Chapel. [Pre-Reformation chantry chapels were destroyed by Henry.]
Secondly, there are the Shrine Services, for all pilgrims, participated in by almost all of the visiting parish priests, in the Shrine Church and around the close. Among these are sprinkling with water for healing at the well, prayers and anointing with oil for the sick, both those physically present, and those called to mind, and an outdoor procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction on Sunday afternoon. And, as night creeps up on Saturday, a candle-lit procession of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham around the grounds of the shrine, with pilgrims waving candles high as they sing Ave Maria.
There are many more. The various services strike a good balance. ‘Please don’t feel that you are expected to go to them all,’ say the Notes for Pilgrims. Indeed, inside and outside the church, in the close, the village, and the countryside between the two Shrines, is Walsingham’s tranquil and sacred atmosphere. ‘Spiritually refreshing,’ and ‘Serene,’ are among the comments I’ve heard about our pilgrimage.
Before we left Walsingham, people were keen to book for next year, which we have done, from Friday 24th to Monday 27th July. There are twenty-five places, about twelve of which have already been spoken for!