Walsingham Pilgrimage Diaries
October 16th - 18th, A.D. 2009




Three members of the party, who were going to Walsingham for the first time were invited to write up their experiences of the three days.

Friday

There's a first time for everything and this was it for me and the 'Walsingham Experience'. Up bright and early on Friday morning to put the croissants to warm before setting out to church on the first stage of our pilgrimage. I am fairly familiar with Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales': I know that croissants never featured, so no matter what lay ahead, we were off to a comfortable start!  
                                                                               
Margaret, Miriam, Mona and Martin were already busy setting up for the Pilgrims' first Mass as I arrived and Howard was doing a great job 'meeting and greeting' and stowing luggage at the back of church (and he wasn't even able to travel with us, bless him) Thankyou, Howard for that warm welcome.
                                    
In characteristic style, Martin led us in our first mass; quietly competent, assured and hopeful of the companionship and opportunities we were about to experience. Coffee and aforementioned croissants consumed, we were under way for 8.30. My first moment of anxiety occurred when I realised I had not switched off the vestry urn so had to text Kari who, as Joan very practically suggested, would be at choir practice that night and so could ensure safe switching off. Get message back from Kari to say she could not be at choir practice but she was on her way into work and so would call in to church and attend to the switch off. I'm still only on the M57 but this Pilgrimage fellowship ethos is making itself very clear! Even clearer when Kari later told me 'O ye of little faith' that urn was already off, having been attended to by Margaret!
                                   
As our journey continued I acknowledged the awe and wonder owing to the British Motorway system: how can you be going up to the top of the M62 when you want to be going down and across to Norfolk?  Trust in God (and coach drivers).  A welcome stop at Ferrybridge Services: most fellow pilgrims joining the 'Costa' queue but I went for the cheaper 'Burger King' option and got served straightway and then sat with Mona. Bonus attached to this was that I got a share in Martin's 'lemon drizzle' muffin. I did the polite thing and said I wouldn't want to impose but our pilgrimage leader shut me up: 'Just call it charity,  Maureen'.......    
                                                                                          
On our next 'leg', in between tuning into Radio 4, reading my book and conversing with fellow travellers, I began to think about what to put on Martin's invitation sheet for our intercessions at the United Benefice Pilgrims' Mass on Saturday morning. It was later to prove most moving as we shared concerns, hopes and prayers (but that's not 'my' designated day).
 
Our driver broke with what was apparently previous United Benefice Pilgrim tradition and decided that we would be better served by calling in at the 'Famous Farm Stop' in Lincolnshire instead of going to Boston for our lunch. This proved to be an excellent decision. We were offered a wide choice for lunch, reasonably priced, efficiently served and left with enough time to browse in the farm shop. Apologies here to all concerned but this was the point at which I had to enquire which of us had the 'Pilgrims' Manual' and get them to stump up 3 quid in readiness for receiving same. Not quite the same process as effected by Chaucer's sellers of indulgences and 'relics' but still, it made me think..       
Just over an hour later, we had arrived: 3pm and we were being welcomed into the 'Stella Maris' lounge and given direction to our rooms. Janet, having been a little anxious before at not having a previously-assigned room, was now delighted to be told that she had, not only 'a room with a view' but a room with a balcony!!  We were all in the very newly opened 'Milner Wing'  (with the exception of Fr. and Mrs. Jones, that is, but thereby hangs another tale....) How thrilled we were at these smart, en-suite rooms AND each with their own name. Make of it what you will, but my room was called 'The Angel of the Fiery Furnace' and I felt SO at home there.....   
                                                     
An hour or so to unpack and acclimatise and then it was our first visit to the Holy House. It very much depends where you are 'coming from' I suppose as to how this possible culture affects you. One of my main interests in being here was that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my mum who had been to Walsingham over 30 years ago and she had adored it. Another powerful influence was my dad and his very definite Irish Catholic background and, let's not forget what I've been used to in many years of worship at St. Faith's... result? - I'm in. The liturgy, the drama, the candles, the colour...and the very powerful presence of the latest Shrine Administrator, Bishop Lindsay all added to the unique 'Walsingham Experience'. Add to this the fabulous food, wonderful staff, lovely village and, last, but most certainly not least, the companionship of my fellow pilgrims:  thank you, all, for our conversations, laughs, derisive banter and supportive presence. I shall return; who knows what room I may be designated next time......

Maureen Madden



Saturday


One of my favourite works of literature is The Canterbury Tales, written by Chaucer in the 14th Century.   A group of pilgrims are journeying to Canterbury Cathedral, and to amuse themselves on their arduous pilgrimage, they hold a storytelling contest.  The pilgrims are a strange bunch, including a monk, a foul-mouthed miller, a Knight and a WAG called Alison!  The tales they share, the background of each pilgrim and their spiritual quest makes for fascinating reading, and it was really my sole knowledge of pilgrimage. Therefore, when my friend Jackie invited me along to Walsingham, my expectations were some 700 years out of date!

As I wandered down to the tiny chapel on Saturday morning, it struck me how different this experience was from what I had been expecting, and how special.   felt instantly welcomed by the group and the atmosphere at Walsingham was calm and tranquil.  As I listened to Father Martin’s service, prayed in the cool morning air and accepted Holy Communion, I felt at peace.

A hearty breakfast followed, where I chatted with new friends and consumed my body weight in croissants.  Feeling full-of-tummy but light-of-spirit, I made my way to the Shrine Church for the Stations of the Cross.  I have only been worshipping at church for two years, and the Stations of the Cross means a lot to me, as it was the first service I attended. When confronted with Christ’s journey, step-by-step, from condemnation to resurrection, I opened my eyes and heart for the first time to His suffering, and what it truly meant for me and for us all, and it always makes me very emotional.  

Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I followed Martin and the group around the Stations, beautifully plotted around the grounds of the Shrine.   Sure enough, as I walked from the simple plaque of “Jesus receives his Cross” to the tiny chapel housing “Jesus meets his Mother”, I felt the same blow with every word – the emotion and realisation that comes with each Station feels like a physical punch to me.  By the time we stood on the hill representing Calvary, staring up at the three wooden Crosses, I felt humble, honoured and loved.  Looking around at the other pilgrims, I could see other people felt the same.

I felt the need for time to myself, to reflect and be still, so I decided to re-visit some of the stations on my own, to reflect over the lessons I can learn from the suffering and death of Jesus.   All was well until I ventured too far in to the replica of His tomb and could not get out (too many croissants!).  I decided to reflect instead in the relative safety of the Shrine Church, and enjoyed some time in the Holy House and the chapels. I particularly liked the 15th Century painting of Madonna and Child in the Ascension Chapel, I spent a lot of time here quietly reflecting and feeling the presence of God, and also some time being slightly disturbed at the feet of Christ poking through the ceiling of the Chapel, without any legs or body!  

I decided not to go on the coach trip, but instead to spend the day enjoying the Shrine grounds and exploring Walsingham. After another lovely lunch with some of the group, Jackie took me up the Farm Shop and Chocolate Factory, where I spent far too much money on delicious goodies. I wonder how many will end up as Christmas presents, as intended, and how many I will eat before the month is out?!  

I spent a few lovely hours exploring the grounds, rooms and public spaces and chatting to the proprietor of the Pilgrim Bookshop before returning to my room.  As I sat on the balcony and watched the peaceful world of the Shrine go about its business, I felt a deep sense of faith. I was spending time with a dear friend, had been welcomed by a lovely group of new friends and I was exploring my faith and worshipping in a new and exciting way.  Most of all, I was connecting with a part of myself that sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day hurry of life, my special and personal relationship with God.

At 6pm it was time for Concelebrated Mass, which I really enjoyed. I did get the giggles briefly when Jackie was nudged and pushed by every Priest on the way past, as the church was so full. However, the dignity of the occasion won me over and I loved the sermon from Father Stephen, the new Shrine Priest. After yet another yummy dinner, it was time for what turned out to be my most treasured moment of the pilgrimage, the torchlight procession and Service of Healing and Reconciliation.  

Once I had managed to get my candle to stay alight (no matter what Bishop Lindsey says, it WAS a sign from God that mine kept going out!), I was stunned by the symbolism and beauty of over a hundred pilgrims processing around the moonlit grounds, aglow with the light of candles.  I felt connected – to my fellow pilgrims, to God, to pilgrims in ages past.  Back inside the Church, the words of Bishop Lindsey resonated within me – sometimes simple day-to-day items do take on a deeper significance. In what I found to be a deeply moving service, I was anointed and prayed for by Priests who touched not only my hands and forehead, but through them, God touched my soul. As someone who does not have a background in the ceremonies and rituals of the church, I tend to respond more to simple services, and this service, for me, was the epitome of God reaching out and touching His people.   There seemed to be a spirit of kindness in the air, with pilgrims holding and comforting each other and acknowledging each other.

I then decided to make a confession.  I had never done this before and I am so glad I did. I do not know the name of the priest who spent so long listening to me, and advising me, but I will never forget his kind and wise words. When I came out, the church was nearly empty. I toyed with the idea of going to my room but I wanted some company, and I knew I would find our band of pilgrims in the local pub! I wandered over and was met with the usual warmth – a quick drink and chat before bed was all that was needed to restore the balance of my soul.

As I fell in to my soft bed, tired and emotional but also happy and at peace, my only regret was that tomorrow was the last day. 

Janet Newall



Sunday


6.45am. Woke up feeling completely refreshed and ready for the day ahead. It is not difficult to be relaxed here, I have not slept so well for a long time. The nights are so quiet and peaceful, without the intrusion of modern day paraphernalia, T.V., mobile phones (nobody can get a signal) not even my beloved radio which is a constant background noise when I am at home.

8.00am. Off to breakfast after a good shower and stripping my bed as instructed. I have eaten three meals a day sinceThursday and have gained an extra inch or two on my waist, the food is plentiful and the company good.

 9.15am Walk to the village store for a newspaper and go back to the room to read, can’t concentrate on news and start to look through the book of Psalms, one can almost find a psalm to match one's needs.

10.00am. Smarten up, set off to walk to St Mary's Church for mass; not sure where it is so we follow the crowd. St Mary's is a fine building which had suffered fire damage but has been sympathetically restored inside. It is big and airy, painted white and has huge windows which allow the light to flood in.The church was full and it felt good to be worshipping with so many people. I was disappointed with the lack of a choir and crucifer (we are so spoiled at St Faith's) but fortunately I knew the hymns so was able to go up and down in the right places. We partook of Eucharist in one kind only, this still feels incomplete to me and hope it won’t be too long before we can return to normal practise. Bishop Lindsay and Father Steve, the new priest at Walsingham, were both at the service. I had enjoyed listening to and was inspired by both of them on previous days. Bishop Lindsay is so proactive and hands on, he had come to introduce himself to each table in the refectory despite a long journey from Kent. His words the night before had left me feeling uplifted and strong in my faith.

12.30pm. Lunch  and a glass of wine with our fellow parishoners at the refectory and I was ready to attend the laying on of hands at The  Holy Shrine; another moving ceremony as we prayed for those in need and left the church  and drank the water from the Holy Well. Father Martin asked us to join him after the service so he could bless any items that we would be using in our devotions in the future. Some of had purchased  things from the Shrine shop (not easy to say if one has had too much wine) and this made them more special.

4.00pm. Once again we congregated at the Shrine, to join our fellow pilgrims as we observed the Procession of The Blessed Sacrament. This was very solemn. Bishop Linsday gave the Blessing and I left the church via The Holy House and lit my final candle at Walsingham. Our journey home was uneventful and it was good to see St Faith's again.

I didn’t know what to expect at Walsingham; people I had spoken to gave me very different opinions, experiences of any kind are unique to each person and strangely my own experience was a mixture of others I had heard. I was hoping for some deep religious experience and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure what happened but I know I was touched by something and feel stronger for it. I will go again to Walsingham.

Brenda Cottarel



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