THE original Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham goes back into Saxon times -to the time of Edward the Confessor—and the first site of this much venerated shrine was on the north side and close to Walsingham Priory.
The first little Chapel was built in wood in 1061 and for 500 years was the focal point of European pilgrimage until it was destroyed by order of Henry VIII.
Many kings and queens of England have walked barefoot through the ancient streets of Walsingham in Norfolk on their pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine.
Richard Coeur de Lion paid his homage there as did Henry
III, Edward 1, II, and III, and Henry IV, VI, and VIII, but it was Henry VIII who, after making his pilgrimage, had the shrine destroyed.
For nine centuries Walsingham has had a wonderful reputation for prayers being answered and for the curing of the sick just as Lourdes has today.
The Canons of the Augustinian Order founded Walsingham Priory in 1149. and it was the pride of Medieval England. They indeed were in charge of the shrine of Our Lady under Ralph, the first Prior of the Order who was appointed in 1153.
The main gateway to Walsingham Abbey (known previously as the Priory) is in Walsingham High Street and it was built in 1440 in the reign of Henry VI. Over the massive portal there is a porters' room which allowed the porters to look straight down or to either left or right through slanted windows to see who was knocking at the gates. Today one can see the stone carving of a porter's head and shoulders looking out of the topmost window.
Straight ahead of the main gateway is the remains of the great East window of the Priory. It was built about 1380 in the reign of Richard H and is in the early Perpendicular style. This great arch is all that remains of a once great Priory.
The stonework to the quoins
of this window are in stonework brought from the Midlands as was usual at that time, there being no stone quarries in East Anglia; however, the panels are filled in with the decorative local knapped flints.
A little way from this archway can be found the old wells of the Priory, and local superstition has it that if you drink from the wells and at the same time make a wish—then it will come true within a year. And a few yards away can be seen the Old Packhorse Bridge which the Monks built over the river Stiffkey.
Unlike some of our modem motorways and modem materials, it was evidently built to last.
In the centre of Walsingham is an open space known as the Common Place, in the middle of which is the old town pump house built about 1550—and it can still supply water if you operate the old pump handle. There is a brazier on top which used to be lit on special occasions.
The half-timbered houses surrounding the square are from about the year 1440. Not far away is the old Black Lion Hotel, and it was from here that coaches ran a regular service to London on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Today's centre of religious adoration is the Slipper Chapel with its crowned statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. Its name derives from the fact that this is the point where Pilgrims took off their shoes and walked the last mile barefoot to the Shrine.
The interior restoration of the Chapel was carried out in 1934 under the direction of Monsignor Canon Squirrel]. Rector of St. John's, Norwich, and the Silver Jubilee of the opening of the Slipper Chapel was celebrated in 1959 when
Cardinal Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster, with the Archbishop of Malta and the Bishop of Nottingham preached to thousands of Pilgrims.
Today, each year, we can see groups of young Pilgrims marching through the leafy lanes of Norfolk on their way to Walsingham carrying huge oak crosses.