As you can see from the photos in the previous post, yesterday was a fantastic day at Walsingham. To accompany those pictures Michael Payne has kindly written his reflection on the day. Here it is:
This year’s National Pilgrimage took place amid somewhat ‘iffy’ weather; a chilly Norfolk breeze whipped through the ruins of the Abbey, which provides the setting for the day.
This summer, St. John’s is fortunate to have an American seminarian, Chad Hart, with us. This is his first experience of England and yesterday gave Chad a good insight into the British ‘mustn’t grumble’ mentality: despite the chilly start to the Pilgrimage, picnics were duly broken out, rugs spread on the grass and happy chatter accompanied the scotch eggs, ham sandwiches and sparkling wine.
National Pilgrimage is unlike any other organised pilgrimage to Walsingham in that the village and shrine grounds are alive with visitors. Some people from St. John’s have been coming to Walsingham for years, but had never got round to the National. Some people are put off by the idea of crowds, and the fact that unless you make the time for it, you may not visit the Holy House itself, as the day is structured around Mass and sermon in the abbey grounds and a procession through the village to the shrine grounds.
For me, Walsingham is a place of quiet action. The village and shrine are lovely and peaceful, yet there is an undercurrent of restlessness at work: one only has to gaze upon the statue of Our Lady and the Holy Infant to see a somewhat austere-looking Mary and our Lord pointing out and away- Mary draws us to Walsingham in order to meet her Son, who promptly sends us away with a fresh commission to do His work.
That quiet peacefulness is not present during National Pilgrimage, and the encounter to be had there has an entirely different feel to it. This year, I sensed that the topic of the day was an affirmation and assertion of our Anglican catholicity during a difficult time. The Bishop of Stafford gave a lively yet meditative sermon on the motherhood of Mary; both in terms of her anguish at witnessing the death of Jesus and so sharing our pain in loss, and as the Mother of Journeys. This layer of meaning was especially relevant to Anglo Catholics at the moment as we embark on a very rocky road towards an uncertain destination. The Bishop mentioned Pilgrims who visit Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico before making the dangerous journey towards the American border; he mentioned a church in France which has capitalised on the Tour de France cycle race by depicting Our Lady in a yellow jersey, a good humoured acknowledgement that Mary is a mother to all who strive to succeed, and to all who pass through life in a mad dash, like frantic cyclists in a race.
The Bishop’s sermon provided a good context for our own journey during the day: the procession through the village. As we began the short walk, the weather improved greatly and we entered the shrine grounds in pleasant sunshine before preparing to leave for home.
Upcoming Pilgrimages to Walsingham are the Youth Pilgrimage and Pilgrimage for Healing and Renewal (both in August), a families’ Pilgrimage and the young adult’s Pilgrimage (both in November).