If you read enough English royal history books, websites or texts you will eventually come across a place called Our Lady of Walsingham. Located between Norwich and King’s Lynn in Norfolk, this place of pilgrimage was built in 1061 during the reign of Edward the Confessor.
Though the following centuries English kings and queens frequently visited it. Originally the shrine stood by itself, but some time during the early 2nd century it became enclosed in a wooden Priory. This religious house was run by an order of Augustinian Canons until its dissolution and destruction on the orders of Henry VIII in the 1530s.
So just what made this place so popular with English Kings and in particular English Queens? The answer lies in the legend that surrounds the original building.
The legend stated that the Virgin Mary had appeared before Richeldis who was the widow of the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham. The Virgin Mary transported Richeldis in spirit to the exact spot of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel had appeared before Mary to tell her she would bear the Son of God and that she should name him Jesus. Mary instructed Richeldis to take down exact measurements of what she saw in order that an exact replica of the Holy House could be built in England. It was for this reason that the house became known as England’s Nazareth.
Richeldis being a generous Christian and devout follower of the Virgin Mary supplied the materials and pondered where to tell the carpenters to build the house. The answer came after two heavy days of dew. When only two dry areas remained after the dew Richeldis took this as sign that Mary wished the house to be constructed on the ground between two wells.
One of the dry patches was chosen, but try as they might the carpenters could not manage to build the house. They reported their failure and despair to Recheldis, whose solution was to seek divine guidance in a vigil of overnight prayer.
It seems her prayers were answered, as according to legend a miracle was performed overnight. By sunrise the house had been completed, albeit in the other dry patch of ground and the Walsingham legend was born.
On reviewing the legend it starts to emerge why English Queens often went on pilgrimage to visit Our Lady at Walsingham. Being a replica of the house where the Virgin Mary had received the news that she was to bear a son what better place to either pray for a child or to give thanks for one.
Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon visited the shrine and his second wife Anne Boleyn mentioned it in February 1533 when hinting at her secret marriage to the King. She publicly told her Uncle the Duke of Norfolk ‘that if she was not pregnant by Easter, she would make a pilgrimage to pray to Our Lady of Walsingham’
Even today with the original structures long since lost, pilgrims still return to the new modern buildings to seek the blessing of the Virgin Mary.
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