The Walsingham Diaries 2011

... accounts by three assorted pilgrims of the events of the 2011 PIlgrimage




Friday

Friday 14th October  – it’s 7am and Reverend Martin Jones is wide awake and raring to go, resplendent in dog collar and cassock and, by association, so is Miriam (not in collar and cassock)……

We set off for St Oswald’s to make sure the church was set up and ready for our fellow pilgrims from St Faith’s and St Mary’s arrival in time for the 8.30 am Mass.

Everything checked, ready to go and we have an unexpected but welcome visitor – our priest-in-charge at St Oswald’s, Canon June Steventon who had come to church for Morning Prayer to find that Martin had forgotten to mention (or indeed ask if it was ok) that we were having our Pilgrim’s Mass! ‘Oh dear, I thought, what else has been forgotten…?’ The next thing I found had NOT been forgotten was my mother, Mona. Oh no, she was very much in evidence, as described in pictorial form in the magazine and website, usually aloft!

A beautiful, intimate service then ensued, very much in keeping with the rest of the weekend – Martin asking that we all try and take ‘something’ from each sermon or service that we were to attend during our time at Walsingham. A phrase, a feeling, a memorable experience…such things many pilgrims have felt before and will again in the future. Some of our fellow pilgrims ‘escaped’ as soon as they had taken Communion to ensure we were not to embark on our journey on empty stomachs – ham and cheese croissants with a cup of warm comfort to help us on our way. Many thanks to Gillian, Harry, John and Catherine.
The journey was largely (and gratefully) uneventful, our driver Dave being the perfect balance between being wonderfully polite, attentive and easy going without ‘trying to entertain’. We managed to do that all on our own… not least because Martin did actually get us to sing most of the 56 verses of the Pilgrim’s hymn, albeit in instalments!

The Welcome in the Green Room at Walsingham by our usual host Jeremy was followed by the First Visit to the Holy House. I have now been to Walsingham several times, but I still experience a unique feeling each time I enter that place. Those wonderful words of that well known hymn ‘These stones that have echoed Thy praises are holy’ always have a special significance for me when I visit and I hope they always will.

Once settled in to our humble abode (and take it from me, the clergy abode is more humble than most) we made our way to enjoy our evening meal. Plenty of chat and ‘first impressions’ were shared over our supper and then afterwards. Some of us went to the local hostelry, whilst others joined fellow pilgrims from Rotherham (and other far flung places) to share in life experiences, expectations of the weekend to come plus many other (diverse) subjects! A full and exciting day came to an end, with joyous anticipation for the days ahead. We were not to be disappointed….read on…

Miriam Jones

Saturday

As first light dawned the windows in our room were streaming with condensation. It had been cold overnight and later as we walked through the village the similar appearance of other windows took me back to the days before double glazing and the beginning of winter. Little did we know that at the other end of the day the thoughts of Christmas would be brought right back into the forefront of all our minds at the evening service. However, we returned to the Shrine and to the chapel of the Guild of All Souls for our 8 o’clock service. For me a service at this time is generally from the Book of Common Prayer but this was in the modern idiom and it was for me the most moving of the visit. The intercessions were compiled from suggestions made to our reverend leader and they represented the thanks and wishes of our selves and those of our companions and as such mean a lot to us all.

After breakfast (by the way the food here is very good) we went to the chapel of the Holy House to begin our tour through the stations of the cross. The last time I visited the stations of  the cross was in Jerusalem almost 20 years previous. Then the Via Dolorosa was heaving with people, much I guess as it was in the time of Jesus; however many were there not for the most charitable of reasons as I had cause to persuade one of them to remove his hand from a pocket. Today at Walsingham the difference was extreme – we were in a warm sunny garden with the masses here singing a variety of hymns to suit each stopping point combined with a gentle prayer from Martin. This reliving of Eastertide proved a very emotional event for many.

In the afternoon a group of 20 of us had an enjoyable visit to a whisky distillery about an hours drive away. Then on returning the whole community went to evening mass where we were reminded that Christmas is not far off with a sermon based upon “Mam I want a new bike” with the moral being that we do not need all the high tech paraphernalia because our faith is sufficient.

After dinner we settled down in the ground floor lounge for an evening’s entertainment - but unfortunately “Strictly” had finished; but just as we were getting settled who should come in but the four ladies of St Paul’s Rotherham, who the night before had provided a most inspirational evening, and the current evening proved the night before to be no exception. Whilst Norma was making bobbles out of scraps of old wool for the children’s fancy dress, we heard how they had managed to increase the congregation of St Paul’s even whilst being without a vicar. They had done this by engaging children in plays depicting stories from the bible, hence Norma’s current task and this had resulted in over 35 families attending for that particular service which was now a regular event. Joyce on the other hand had over the last 12 months looked after and mothered over 30 foster children – most of them teenaged boys. Her stories were heart-rending and indeed inspirational and in this company we ended the second day.

John S Watkin


Sunday

By the time Sunday morning came around I had completely recovered from any disappointment I may have experienced upon arrival in Walsingham when I had found that I’d not been allocated my wonderfully-named room of two years before: ‘The Angel of the Fiery Furnace’.  Perhaps it was no longer necessary to have such a potent reminder of the way to behave each time one entered one’s private quarters….. Nonetheless, the absence of fiery furnaces and en-suite facilities was almost compensated for by the location of a room which was directly opposite the shower room so: - easy to dive across as soon as you realised the bathroom had been vacated.

It being Sunday morning I decided that I would indulge in a little relaxation and so made myself a cuppa in one of the  various kitchenettes. An extra twenty minutes in bed with my cup of tea and a chance to reflect on the previous two days of sunshine, services and the social companionship of fellow pilgrims.        Having taken a little longer with the early morning tea I found that most of the residents of my corridor had already gone to breakfast so I then had the added luxury of the bathroom to myself without feeling I was keeping people waiting.  I didn’t think I’d been that long but, by the time I approached the dining room, a search party (if Bill Tudhope can be referred to as a ‘party’) had been launched. Before I could be too overwhelmed by the concern of my fellow travellers I realised that I was only required because David needed me to sign the cheque to pay our bill!

It is the tradition to attend the 11o’clock Parish Mass at St Mary’s in the village which meant more time to stroll around the grounds and the village, to read, take a quiet visit to the Shrine church or even squeeze in a little more browsing and shopping before church. I think this is one of the features of the Walsingham trip that people most enjoy: the choice of free time to spend alone or to keep the company of others, doing just as you feel. It is not a luxury frequently afforded to us in the course of our daily lives.

A leisurely stroll in the sunshine down the village street to St Mary and All Saints, Little Walsingham for a Mass on the 29th Sunday of the year gave us another opportunity to be thankful for this lovely place and our chance to be there. St Mary’s is a very light, bright and beautiful church and the home congregation are well accustomed to the pilgrim ‘invasion’. Something else to appreciate though as I fumbled with three separate service books was the informative clarity of our regular Sunday service sheets at St Faith’s! The sermon that morning was most apposite, centring upon Matthew’s Gospel ‘rendering unto Caesar’ etc etc. Doubtless more will be heard from this source in our forthcoming Stewardship campaign…..

Pre lunch drinks and a Sunday roast – no cooking, no washing up – perfect.

The final two services of the week-end are the Sprinkling and blessing with the waters from the ancient well after which pilgrims are asked to sit quietly and reflect. There is then the offer of afternoon tea and finally, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction. The Sprinkling is a simple but touching and very effective service I think and it felt right to go and sit quietly in the grounds straight afterwards. It was then that perhaps one of the most significant things about the week-end occurred for me. The bench I went to sit on was already occupied by an eldery gentlemen who was reading his paper. There were a couple of children nearby who were trying to make a tally of all the ladybirds in the surrounding flowerbeds. After five minutes or so the gentleman looked up from his paper and made a comment about the counting system the children were using; they seemed to have managed to rise from 36 to 932 in the space of a couple of seconds! I couldn’t help but smile and reply and conversation developed from there.

This man had flown to Norwich from Edinburgh. His wife had died just 3 weeks before. It had always been her intention to visit the Shrine but she had never done so and her death had actually occurred on the 24th of September, the day which commemorates Our Lady of Walsingham. After the funeral arrangements and before returning to face the daunting task of sorting and ordering which follows a death, he was here to grieve and give thanks for their life together. Our conversation ranged over many topics - it meant I missed the afternoon tea and the final service; the procession walking along the paths around us – but that didn’t matter, it seemed more important to talk and to listen. If anyone hears of a forthcoming play by a writer named McShane on either BBC radio or TV which features a ghost story, Robert Burns and an unusual gathering of The Burns’ Society  then please let me know; it’s by the son of my friend of that Sunday afternoon.

The bell tolled for the end of the service, Mr McShane and I shook hands, I completed my job as ‘key monitor’ to return all room keys to reception, Mona was hoisted aloft and aboard and we were off: not quite back to reality, as I recollect the conversation taking place in some quarters on the journey home… but that’s another story!!
          
Maureen Madden



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