Fr. Bill Faupel recently introduced us to Christian pilgrimage by sharing his pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the principal Anglican shrine of Mary.
My Pilgrimage to Walsingham
I got on the bus with a sense of excitement. I was certain this trip would turn out to be a great adventure. It was my last year in England. I was making a pilgrimage to Walsingham. For those of you who do not know, Walsingham is to England what Lourdes is to France, a shrine dedicated to our Lady, the mother of our Lord. Over the centuries many have claimed miraculous healing when drinking of the waters from its spring.
The pilgrimage was taken by the whole congregation of the church I was attending. To help pass the time for the six-hour bus ride, the Vicar had each of us tell a story about an incident in our lives where we had been encountered by the Lord. Time flew. I marveled at the remarkable encounters told by very ordinary people. My respect for them grew as I came to know them at a far deeper level than I had understood them before.
It seemed like only minutes had passed when the Vicar called a halt to this time of “testimony” and began to pass out hymnals. For the last half-hour, as we approached Walsingham, we sang the Saga of the Lady of Walsingham. Richeldis was a young noblewoman who lived in the eleventh century. Stricken with paralysis she had a vision of our Lady who took her in spirit to Nazareth to the home where Gabriel had asked her to become the mother of our Lord. Mary told Richeldis that if she built a shine that was an exact replica of Mary’s home, at the bubbling spring, the site of her vision, she would be healed. Richeldis obeyed and was healed.
We sang of the next five centuries that followed as pilgrims came from across the land to drink from the healing waters of Walsingham. Then the mood of the sage changed as we sang of the coming of the Protestant Reformation. The shrine was destroyed, and the spring was stopped up. We sang of the brave devout men who would come out at night to unstop the spring knowing that if they were caught, they would be put to death. To me it felt as we were singing from The Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in reverse. Then the mood of the song changed once more as we sang the final stanzas of the time when God heard the cries of the faithful and the devout. The oppression had passed, the shrine was rebuilt and the faithful could openly come to drink of the water that had brought healing and life to so many.
As I entered the shrine and walked down the steps to drink from the waters of the spring, I felt the need to take off my shoes for I was in the presence of the Holy. For this Protestant young man, it was far from being simply a great adventure, it proved to be a spiritual transformation and I came to realize that God was far greater than my Protestant mind had ever before imagined.