Today, at noon (UK time) England will be rededicated to Our Lady. The illustration above is the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. As long-time readers of this blog will know, Walsingham is close to the heart of Jessica, who founded this blog and who has written most movingly about it in pieces to which links can be found here.
In the Middle Ages, Walsingham – ‘England’s Nazareth’ was a Marian shrine of a size which rivalled Compostella. It owed its origin to Richeldis de Faverches the Saxon wife of a Norman lord. Richeldis had a deep faith in God and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and was well known for her good works.
In 1061, Richeldis was privileged to have a vision of the Blessed Virgin. She was transported, in her vision, to Nazareth and saw the holy house where the Holy Family lived. Our Lady made it clear she wanted it rebuilt in England’s green and pleasant land:
“Do all this unto my special praise and honour. And all who are distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made me in Walsingham. To all that seek me there I will give my help. And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me that through humility, I should become the Mother of the Son of God.”
Legend has it that when the masons attempted to build the house, the ground would not yield to their spades, but that in the morning the angels had built it – as she intended.
Skilled craftsmen were commissioned to carve a statue of Our Lady. Our Lady was enthroned on the Throne of Wisdom and crowned as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She herself was a throne for the Christ-Child, Who was represented holding out the Gospels to the world. Her right hand pointed to Him, and He extended His arm in a double gesture of blessing and protection of His Mother. Each part of the statue was rich in symbolism, such as the seven rings on the throne standing for the Seven Sacraments, which Henry VIII defended centuries later, and the flowering lily-sceptre which she held in her right hand. It symbolised her Perpetual Virginity, and, in the teachings of the Cistercian saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, that She is the Flower of the Rod of Jesse. Miracles of healing were performed there from the start.
In 1381, in the middle of the turmoil we call the “Peasants’ Revolt,” King Richard II dedicated his realm to Our Lady in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey; this meant that England was given over to her protection. The prayer of Entrustment for 2020 can be found here.
This moment has been three years in the planning, and no-one could have envisaged then the circumstances in which it will now take place. I had hoped, being in Norfolk, to be able to be there; now none of us will be.
The illustration above is the Wilton Diptych, a late medieval portable altarpiece which depicts the Dedication of England to Our Lady. It was painted toward the end of Richard’s reign, one which had seen the realm ravaged by the Plague and by civil strife; the King himself would soon be overthrown by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, and part of whose legacy would be the rivalry between the Houses of Lancaster and York which would plunge England into years of civil strife.
It would be Bolingbroke’s son, Henry V, who would invoke the help of England’s Protectoress on the eve of Agincourt; his appeal enjoyed more success than that of his dead cousin, Richard II. Like every other king of England since its construction, Henry V visited the Holy site. The last one so to do was Henry VIII, who was responsible for its destruction during the orgy of iconoclasm which followed his break from Rome.
One effect of the Reformation and its legacy was that for hundreds of years the tradition of Marian veneration was lost in this country. No doubt in Recusant houses in half-forgotten corners of the realm Our Lady was held in reverence; but that really was a faith which could not speak its name. But the tradition was not wholly lost in Angicanism, and divines like Launcelot Andrewes, continued the ancient tradition, as I explained here.
The Oxford Movement helped create the context in which a Shrine was once more estabished at Walsingham in the late nineteenth century. In 2016 the old Slipper Chapel became a Catholic Basilica, and under the formidable Rector, Mgr. John Armitage huge strides have been made toward making the Shrine what it was in medieval times – a centre of international pilgrimage. The Rededication was meant to mark a milestone in this process, and will do so, but not in the way planned at the time.
With England on lockdown because of the Coronavirus, everything will have to take place at a distance except for those on the ground doing the Rededication. But perhaps, as has happened elsewhere, more will follow on-line than might have done in normal times.
There will, of course, always be those who protest at Marian “idolatry,” but for faith illiteracy which seeks not to remedy its own ignorance there is no remedy. I have written elsewhere in this blog on the subject, and those who wish to rehearse the arguments can find them set out in that place. For my part, I prefer the simply piety expressed by Jessica in a moving post here.
Christ is the Word made flesh. Our Lady was chosen by God to bear Him and to raise Him, and she chose willingly to accept that responsibility; she was the gateway through which the author of our salvation entered the world. Of all of us, she is the best. What more natural sentiment could there be than to be grateful to Our Lady? What more natural reaction in times of travail could there be for the pious king than to seek her as protector for the realm? As the history of Walsignham shows, Our Lady is deeply threaded into the history of England.
So it is, in God’s Providence, that this special moment, long in the planning, takes on a significance far deeper than any of us could have imagined. As we sit in our homes in the shadow of this pestilence, after a period of political turmoil, we are all, alas, better placed to empathise with Richard II and the emotions which prompted him to the Dedication in the first place. Let us pray, in hope, for the spiritual blessings which wil follow on this act of national piety. And let us remember the Marian prayer of Pope Francis for this time:
O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that you will provide, so that,
as you did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the Father’s will
and to do what Jesus tells us:
He who took our sufferings upon Himself, and bore our sorrows to bring us,
through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection. Amen.
We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas – we who are put to the test – and deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Let me conclude with one of the moving prayers which forms part of the Rededication:
We your faithful people assembled here offer you this country in which we live. Once it was yours, all its children were your children and you were honoured throughout England as its Protectress and its Queen. Again do we consecrate it as your Dowry, and entrust it to your maternal care.