Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Walsingham - introduction

Ok, ok, I haven't written in a week. Almost. Walsingham till Sunday night, lazy Monday night, last night NTL stood for "Internet? Not Too Likely." So here we are, three days later than I'd hoped.

Walsingham is a lovely village in north Norfolk, a Marian shrine that attracts pilgrimages from all over the UK, certainly, and probably Europe. The story goes that Lady Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of the Virgin Mary and was instructed to build a replica of the Holy House in Walsingham. The Holy House is beautiful, set in the Anglo-Catholic (read: more camp than an army of tents) shrine, panelled in wood with a statue of the Virgin Mary on a throne with Jesus on her lap. It's candlelit, silent, magical. You can *feel* the generations of prayer that have passed through there.

The Catholic shrine consists of a barn of a church probably built in the 70s, a cafe, a shop and an unprepossessing building that contains the Holy Ghost chapel, with a painting of the Holy Spirit descending on Mary and the apostles (ooh, I'm sensing a theological point that needs to be made here about women in the Church...), and the Slipper Chapel with a statue of Our Lady and about 30 seats...both of which also ooze generations of heartfelt prayers from their walls. It's a mile - the holy mile - from Little Walsingham, and countless bands of pilgrims have made the walk, both barefoot and shod.

Of course, much of a pilgrimage's work is done in the prayer at these shrines, walking the Holy Mile and at mass. But if my entry sounds a bit hollow, that's because it is - a pilgrimage is a journey with others, and in our encounters with others, we encounter God - not always in the way we expect or hope, but He is there nonetheless. Chaucer knew this well. As I said over a Bailey's in the pub on Saturday night, "We define prayer too narrowly. Prayer isn't just being at mass, or meditating or kneeling with our eyes closed. Every moment is prayer. This conversation is a prayer." And on those railway line walks and talks with John, I could feel God like a second skin; it was the same with the alternating intensity and laughter in the pub. From filthy jokes to moments of forgiveness and release to sudden flashes of insight, Our Lady's hand was all over the 60 hour pilgrimage. We were all truly blessed and thankful.

There's so much to talk about, so much I'm still turning over, it's going to come in instalments over the next little while - from the Tridentine mass on Saturday to rosehip used in rationing to being a sniper as an analogy for Christianity (I'm going to make you wait for that last one). But for now, I've started - but I'm not going to finish. And to be honest, I'm not sure Our Lady will either.

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