Our Lord Jesus Christ (OLJC) told the Apostles that men would know His followers by their love for each other, and He counselled them to be united; knowing us as He does, He can’t have been all that surprised that we’ve fallen away from those ideals. Perhaps if we were better at them there would be less for the polemicists to reproach us with? Great crimes have been committed in the name of Christianity, that is true, as it is of any great cause entrusted to fallen mankind. It is in our fallen nature to pervert whatever good things we have from God. In our folly we use the consequences of our own sinful state to reject the opportunity to reach out for God’s love; and in our pride erect a superstructure of Pharisaism on OLJC’s words, before proceeding to live in it rather than the love of Christ.
How very true that is we demonstrate each and every day. Yet there are things that we revere that bring us closer together. Today our Catholic brethren will celebrate Our Lady of Walsingham. That dream of Richeeldis de Faverches, A Saxon noblewoman who founded the shrine in 1061. It prospered all through medieval times visited by every King of England from William the Conqueror to Henry VIII. It was destroyed in the second round of the Dissolution of the Monasteries with its renowned statue of Mary being taken to London to be burnt, either in Chelsea or at Smithfield along with many other statues from the monasteries. or was it?
In an article on his blog, Dr. Francis Young summarizes an article he and Fr Michael Rear wrote for the Catholic Herald a year or so ago, on the circumstantial evidence they have found that a statue of the Virgin and child (apparently 13th century) referred to as the Langham Madonna, (pictured above) now at the Victoria and Albert Museum may, in fact, be the statue that once adorned the Holy House at Walsingham. He really doesn’t go into enough detail for me to have an opinion in his blog post, and the Catholic Herald article comes up 404. But he makes a pretty good case for it. Apparently, it was a common form at that time and this is the only one that survived. It’s worth your time to read and wonder. Walsingham has always had something of the miraculous about it, as you’ll know if you’ve read our various posts about it.
It started with Jessica’s Pilgrimage there in 2012 only a couple months after starting this blog, which she detailed here, here, and here. She gives a very good outline history of the shrine in the course of these posts, and in a personal note, she did indeed light candles for her readers, and at that almost precise time, I felt a great peace go through me, and that is when our friendship became deep and unshakable.
The shrine is also connected with us in other ways, including her miraculous cure from cancer.
The Shrine which has been so central to this blog (if you search for ‘Walsingham” you will find many articles, from Jessica, from Chalcedon, and from me dealing with it. But the main thing bout it seems to me to be a unifying force for Christians of all types and places.
There is a Catholic Shrine at the Slipper Chapel which is historically connected with it, there is an orthodox Shrine and Methodist and (I think) even Coptic chapels. And that is also what we for eight years have attempted to do here, to be ecumenical without being syncretic. In the main, we have succeeded.
In a post on Our Lady Day in Harvest, in 2017 A Clerk of Oxford gave us a very good reading as to what Mary meant to our forbearers.
Though they contain plenty of miracles and marvels and angels, they’re somehow very human and ordinary. At the heart of them is a woman, loving and much loved, whose life is traced from the first wonder of her conception to her peaceful death. In a sequence like that at Chalgrove, or in Ely’s Lady Chapel, or in the Book of Hours or the plays, Mary’s life is mapped out through domestic, everyday scenes: parents rejoicing in the birth of a longed-for baby; a little girl learning to read with her mother, or climbing the steps to the temple like a child on her first day at school; a teenage Mary with her female friends, happy with her baby, at her churching, or in the last days of her life. These were familiar rituals of childhood and motherhood which resonated with medieval audiences – with women especially, but not only women. They are completely relatable, not only for mothers like Margery Kempe but for anyone who has ever had a mother, ever been a child, and there’s something beautiful about elevating such ordinary family relationships to the dignity of high art. In these scenes Mary is not an unapproachably distant figure but a woman imagined in relationship to others: a daughter, wife, mother, friend. In particular, the story of her passing is full of other people and their love for her – the apostles and her friends gathering around her bedside, Christ cradling her soul in his arms like a child. She is unique, but never alone.
Personally, I always like to end these posts with these words from St Isaac the Syrian
In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.