With his smile and his kindly air, the priest-guide had brought me back into the land of human contact; with the exception of a few electronic messages sent at an early staging post, I had had no contact with people for hours. To be met with such benign courtesy was a sweet re-entry into dealing with people. I think sometimes I don’t like dealing with people, and now I am fortunate enough to be on my own for long periods, that feeling grows; it isn’t a very Christian one, and the priest’s welcome reminded me how lovely people can be. Somehow it changed my mood and prepared me for what was to come.
The pilgrim walks through a beautifully tended garden down winding paths to the Shrine Church (pictured). The Shrine was rebuilt by Anglicans in the 1930s. With almost no one about, the atmosphere was, despite the growing humidity, calm – serene.
The Shrine Church is a monument to early twentieth century High Anglican ecclesiastical architecture. The High Altar is a work of art:
You enter the Church through a glass door, which does something to dispel the immediate gloom. No lover of the nineteenth century High Gothic can fail to be captivated by a Church lit by candles with the smell of incense. Here, here it all said, here God is worshipped as our ancestors have worshipped Him from time beyond the memory of man. I was drawn past where I had intended to go first, to the high altar. There I knelt a while in prayer – which included all of you, and all who seek to spread God’s message in this fractured world.
The side-altars beckoned, and walking round the church that way put me in mind of being in a catacomb. On the walls were plaques to donors, faithful old priests and generous donors; the faithful departed were not absent here – their presence could be felt all around. Everywhere one looked, the past was present, and the truth of Eliot’s lines came to me:
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
They felt very close; although no other footsteps could be heard, I was not alone, nor did I feel so. I stood in front of the altar behind the High Altar and said a prayer for all faithful souls.
My initial intention, to visit the Holy House, had been overtaken by my pilgrimage round the side chapels. But Our Lady had not been forgotten, as I had my Rosary, and I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries as I made my way round. The fifth one – the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord, always makes me tearful. It was the moment to turn to His Mother – and the Holy House. It was thence I went.