Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Why Our Lady of Walsingham?

The establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham naturally resonates with Catholic Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike. The modern shrines of OLW make this small place in Norfolk a great pulgrimage centre for thousands each year. We believe that the title for the ordinariate came not from this country however but from the Vatican itself. Rome understands the importance Our Lady historically holds for the English perhaps better than we do ourselves.

England is often called Our Lady's dowry. This is in recognition of the great and deep regard that Our Lady was held in mediaeval times and the devotion that was poured out towards her. Much of this was destroyed by Henry VIII during the English reformation, but the persistence of Our Lady has meant that she has never been fully forgotten. Now she has her own Ordinariate as a platform to reclaim England as her own. Tradition says that the title goes back to Edward the Confessor, which could well be true as it is from this period that Walsingham became an important shrine. The first evidence of England being thought of as Our Lady's dowry however is a picture of Richard II (reigned 1377-1399) in which the King and his consort are pictured kneeling before Our Lady and offering her England. In the King's hand is a parchment which reads: 'This is your dowry, O pious Virgin'.

The history of Walsingham is well documented and stretches back to 1061 when Richeldis, the lady of the Manor was taken to the house in Nazareth where the Annunciation took place. In mediaeval times it became one of the most visited places in all Europe with people travelling hundreds of miles accross sea and land to visit the Holy House. Under Henry VIII Walsingham came to an end with the dissolution of the monasteries.

The restoration of Walsingham has for many Anglicans been blurred: they forget that the restoration of the Catholic shrine happened first. In 1896 some thirty years before Hope Patten would build an Anglican Shrine, Charlotte Boyd restored the Slipper Chapel as a RC shrine. It was fully reestablished in 1897 as a Roman catholic shrine by Leo XIII. Perhaps we also forget that Leo had a great interest in England. He is perhaps remembered by Anglicans only for the papal bull Apostolicae Curae, but it should not be forgotten that it was he who, along with the English and Welsh bishops, revived the notion of Our Lady's dowry. In 1893 the English and Welsh bishops assembled on the feast of SS Peter and Paul at the London Oratory. There they consecrated England to Mary the Mother of God and Saint Peter. Fr Peter Bristow has an online article which is well worth reading about all this. You can read it here. The important point is that this came about after an audience with Pope Leo. It seems therefore that Leo had a great interest in reviving the tradition of England as Our Lady's Dowry, by reconsecrating the land to her patronage and re-establishing the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

In recent times the title of Our Lady of Ransom has been used by catholics in England to pray for restoration. Originally this title was used by Spain in the middle ages especially by the Mercedarians to pray for thse held hostage by Muslims in foreign lands. In recent times it has been used by English Catholics to pray for the release of Our Lady's dowry (England). Our Lady of Ransom shares 24th September as her feast day with Our Lady of Walsingham.

There is therefore a great deal of history behind the choice of Our Lady of Walsingham as the title for the Ordinariate in England and Wales.

Reproduced below is a hymn for the conversion of England with a fourth verse added. The original tune is by Tozer but it can be sung to Wolvercote:

O Lord! behold the suppliant band
   That kneels before thy throne
Come back, come back, unto the land
   That once was all thine own.
By all thy toil, by all thy pain,
   By every sigh and tear,
We pray Thee, let not Satan gain
   The souls that cost so dear.

Remember Lord, Thy mercies old,
   Thy grace so freely given,
When nations thronged into thy fold
   Intent on gaining heaven.
Remember how our Lady's Dower,
   Was England's glorious name,
Oh! bid her show her former power,
   Her ancient right reclaim.

Oh! for the sake of Saints who prayed
   At altars now laid low,
For deeds of shame, for faith betrayed,
   Thy vengeance, Lord, forego.
And for the sake of those who stood
   Amid the nation's fall,
Who kept their faith and shed their blood,
   Have mercy now on all.

Our Lady's prize stole long ago,
   at last has been restored:
May England and her children know
   that grace on them is poured.
Now Walsingham once more is bold,
   and Leo's labours yield
a harvest of a hundredfold,
   by Benedict now sealed.

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