Walsingham comes to Liverpool
Saturday, October 10th, 2009 was a red-letter day in the
calendar both of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral
and the Anglican Shrine of Our
Lady of Walsingham in distant rural Norfolk.
History was made when the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was brought
into the cathedral and,
for the whole day, programme of devotion, teaching and worship
occupied mist of the vast building.
A fuller account follows the photos, which
show the sequence of this most special day,
from the arrival of the procession to the service of Evensong and
Benediction at the end of the afternoon.
Those familiar with the story of the cathedral's early years and the
churchmanship which prevailed
for most the time since its building, will have been amazed and
delighted at the
generosity of spirit which inspired the day, and the overwhelming
success of the festival.
Photos: Chris Price
When Mary came to Liverpool…
As printed in the November 2009
edition of 'Newslink'
A century ago Liverpool Cathedral was a very different place from
the great building we know today. St Faith’s founder, Douglas Horsfall,
had in 1906 offered to fund a great crucifix as the centrepiece of the
reredos, then being planned. Bishop Chavasse firmly
refused, and is on record as saying that those taking communion would
be offended and would ‘feel betrayed’ by such an object and so
‘Catholic’ an emphasis. In the early years of the century, when the
Anglo-Catholic movement was in full swing, Bishop and Diocese took
legal action against such ‘popish practices’ as the reservation of the
sacrament and the hearing of confessions in some of the churches in the
Diocese. And within living memory, the late Jessie Gale found stewards
rushing to pick her up when she genuflected by her pew before going up
for communion at the cathedral (and Archbishop Robert Runcie was
shouted out of the pulpit at Liverpool Parish Church more recently by
‘Protestants’ accusing him of betrayal by consorting with the Pope and
visiting Walsingham). This writer recalls the procession of colourfully
robed participants going up to the altar, with at their tail a priest
in plain white surplice and black stole… he was the celebrant!
What some of these worthies would have thought when, at 10.00 am
on Saturday October 10th, the great west doors of Liverpool Cathedral
were flung open, spine-tingling trumpets sounded, and the statue of Our
Lady of Walsingham was borne in, with incense, genuflection, and
sustained applause from the many hundreds gathered to bear witness, is
anybody’s guess. The roof did not fall in, not then nor throughout a
day of devotion, activity and fellowship throughout the Great Space. To
be there on that unbelievable day was to wonder at what the passing of
the years and the growth of tolerance have brought to the church, and
to rejoice at the amazing breadth and richness of the Anglican
So what went on? We were welcomed, and queued to drink of the
Walsingham water, sipped from labelled, splashed over us in the Shrine
fashion… not from the well but from Holy Buckets. The gilded
processional statue stood high in the central space, where the CJM
musicians sang loud Marian hymns and played their bright festive music.
There were workshops and stalls in every chapel and corner. Banners
were made all over the floor. Children sang and danced. The place was
thronged with priests, and two visiting bishops in purple skullcaps and
cummerbunds were on parade (‘no, dear, this is an Anglican cathedral!’
I heard one visitor says to another). Throughout the day, there was a
happy holy buzz, not unlike the actual Norfolk Walsingham experience.
Bishop James was there, taking a bible study. You could make a finger
rosary, and buy all manner of things (even statues of the Sacred
Heart!) from the Additional Curates Society table. But two places, and
two experiences, stood out for me.
The cathedral High Altar has always seemed heavy and austere (as
has much of the surrounding architecture) until that day. Walsingham
transformed it. A huge and colourful draped tabernacle stood on the
altar for the day-long Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and before
it a great bowl burnt incense. Here we prayed, and lit tea-lights,
placing them on the steps up to the altar – and before the day was done
there were hundreds of poignant points of light, wreathed in the holy
smoke. Never before had I felt God’s presence so powerfully in that
In the Lady Chapel (where else!) a smaller shrine statue stood.
Here throughout the day there were talks on diverse subjects, including
praying the rosary. And at noon, standing room only, there was a
magnificent and uncompromisingly Catholic Mass (advertised prominently
as such throughout the cathedral… not a word often to be seen there!).
And if that were not enough, towards the end of the afternoon another
amazing ‘first’: Choral Evensong with Benediction, and even more
crowded. Canon Myles Davies intoned, the cathedral choir sang as
superbly as ever, and to the tinklings of what I still cannot resist
calling the Holy Bicycle Bells, the Bishop of Beverley gave Benediction
to the faithful. Never before so many servers and acolytes, so many
candles, so much fervent genuflection and crossings. Usually the
showing of such obvious devotion at our cathedral feels as if it should
be done surreptitiously so as not to give offensc: here, as at the
Walsingham Shrine itself, it felt natural and right.
The day after, doubtless, all trace of this Holy Saturday would
have disappeared, although even in that vast building the incense smell
may have lingered. Looking back, it seems a miracle that it all
happened at all (and that the roof did not indeed fall in). Liverpool
Cathedral has always provided an overwhelming experience for the eyes
and ears, and has, thank God, made space for all manner of events and
styles of worship. There has always been room for The Beatles, for
Hillsborough, for the wilder manifestations of youth praise, and even
for what one comment terms the ‘tasteless pink graffiti’ of the Tracy
Emin text beneath the west window. And now there has been space for the
whole Walsingham experience, and for the manifestation of a
churchmanship and a style of devotion probably unfamiliar to most
visitors to the cathedral. The famous Anglican Umbrella shelters so
many folk and fancies: on October 10th in Liverpool it spread even
wider, and thank God that it did so.
came to Liverpool they opened wide the door
her in with trumpets where she’d never been before.
Space echoed brightly with the tinkling of the bell;
sounding air was filled on high with incense’s sweet smell.
skullcap and in cummerbund the purple bishops walked
each aisle and on each stair black-garbed incumbents stalked
the Lady Chapel they celebrated ‘Mass’
a wondrous ritual came happily to pass.
the great High Altar the Sacrament was displayed
soaring smoke and twinkling lights while queues of faithful prayed.
and presentations filled the great cathedral’s space
was happy festival in this our holy place.
sat on high in glory ‘neath the soaring tower
was in the Lady Chapel till the evening hour
the word, then sit in state, surveying all the crowd
and congregation for Benediction bowed.
left her Holy House, to Liverpool she came
us feeling that our lives might never be the same.
October 10th, 2009
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