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CIMG2202I was touched when Chalcedon brought forward Jessica’s posts on her pilgrimage to Walsingham. Most of you know that Jess and I are very close friends indeed, and one of the bases of that lies in her pilgrimage. I was moved beyond words when she lit a candle there for me–even though such was well outside my experience. In fact, I knew something had changed before she told me of it, a sort of peace went through me at nearly the exact time she did.

Many of you are like me in this, she is our friend, our teacher, and in many ways our guide. She taught me much, about my faith, yes, but also about many other things, not excluding civil life, and working for a living as well. She also revived my early love of poetry, and has helped greatly in learning to apply it to our lives

It is also true that last year when she was ill and continuing into her recovery at Walsingham, her posts were a very great comfort to me, and during the early part of her convalescence helped me to believe that I would once again hear her (written, anyway) voice again. The posts that we have mentioned this week are among my especial favorites, not least because they bring to minds Eliot’s words:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.

And so it has come to pass. Will we again be privileged to read again her thoughts here? God only knows, and He ain’t telling. But I continue to hope and pray that it will be so. Not least because she has a way of explaining even the most complex things such that even I can understand them.

The vandalism of Henry VIII’s troops is shocking to this day, and it is hard to see what he gained by it. Henry was a rather Catholic sort of reformer, his problem was with the Pope, not with the beliefs of the Church. And yet, if England was going to progress, something needed to change, the Church in England held too much of the land, too much of the wealth, and to much of the secular loyalty of the people, and the turning away from Europe is the beginning of the march of the freedoms we enjoy. In truth, all that Britain (and America) has accomplished in the world, mostly good although some bad, started off as a Tudor enterprise. And in truth, it likely wouldn’t have happened if Catherine’s uncle hadn’t been occupying Rome at the time.

Jess said this:

The Holy House at Nazareth was rebuilt in Anglo-Norman England here, in this far corner of Norfolk – a testament to the piety of Richeldis de Faverches and the power and wealth of her lord. It was utterly destroyed by the vandals of Henry VIII. I cannot begin to imagine what the canons of Walsingham felt when they saw the famous statue of Our Lady taken from the sanctuary to be burnt in London. How could that have been for the faithful? How could even the rudest of soldiery not have felt the stain of what they did, as they transported the object of so much veneration to its fiery end? Eliot’s lineshaunted me:

Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
       This is the death of water and fire.

The Shrine itself is a rather incredible story in itself. In a way it is reminiscent of the reports we all read of the desevration of history today, in the Middle East. From the history of Walsingham:

England’s Nazareth

Walsingham has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages — one of the four great shrines of medieval Christendom, ranking alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago da Compostella.

The Vision

In 1061 the lady of the manor, Richeldis de Faverches, had a series of visions of the Virgin Mary, who showed her the house in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel made his revelation of the forthcoming birth of Jesus. Our Lady asked Richeldis to build a replica of the holy house here in Walsingham.

Founded at the time of the Crusades when it was impossible to visit the Holy Land, English Christians were able to visit ‘Nazareth’ in their own country. Walsingham became the premier shrine to Our Lady and around it grew a large monastery.

Every Anglo-Norman king from the Conquest right through Hevry VIII came to the shrine, and it’s memory never really died. I find it interesting to note that the first Roman Catholic Mass celebrated in Walsingham since the Reformation was by American soldiers on 17 May 1945, they certainly had something to be celebrating, since it was just shortly after VE day.

I spoke a bit more about it as well this week, on my blog as well, because as one of my commenters (a Southern Baptist) said:

Moving yes. I never read here without realizing Jess’s influence on you. And silently say Lord Bless and Keep Her as a prayer […]

But I think Jess is the messenger, I believe the influence is really Our Lady. And in that I simply follow Luther’s example, as we discussed here.

This is one the places where, as Eliot wrote in the dark days of 1940, where it is true

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.

Even across all the miles and centuries, She still speaks to us all

Robert Lowell in his The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket says this


There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then walked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah’s whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God. Sailor, you were glad
And whistled Sion by that stream. But see:

Our Lady, too small for her canopy,
Sits near the altar. There’s no comeliness
At all or charm in that expressionless
Face with its heavy eyelids. As before,
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor,
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary’s Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.