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Walsingham Priory

England’s Holiest Shrine

Little Walsingham lies hidden deep in the north corner of Norfolk, approachable only by narrow, twisty lanes flanked by high, thick hedgerows unchanged from the days when traffic went on foot or by horseback.

The slipper chapel Walsingham
The Slipper chapel is the destination for
Catholic pilgrims to Walsingham today.

Little Walsingham too, has changed little over the centuries. It still has its streets of medieval timber‒framed, jetted buildings, its ruined abbey, its Friday Market Place ringed with Georgian public houses and hostelries, its Common Place and its shops selling religious mementos for pilgrims.


The Nazareth of England

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These ruins are all that’s left
of the abbey today.

Walsingham — actually Little Walsingham as there are two villages sharing the same name — has had a long and prestigious history. Once known as the Nazareth of England, it ranked alongside Rome and Jerusalem in importance as a place of pilgrimage.

It was visited by all of England’s kings and queens, starting with Henry III in 1226, up to and including Henry the VIII, who visited twice, in 1486 as a prince and in 1511 as king.

Henry the VIII was the last reigning monarch to visit as 20 years later, the abbey was destroyed on his orders, and today lies in ruins. The people of Norfolk were shattered by this loss as shown in this poem found in the Bodleian Library.

Lament of Walsingham


A woodcut of a 16th Century pilgrim.
A woodcut of a 16th Century pilgrim.
Source The book of Days
In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose,
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be guide to my muse?
Then thou, Prince of Walsingham,
Grant em to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.
Bitter was it to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravening wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.
Bitter was it, O, to view
The sacred vine
(While gardeners played all close)
rooted up by the swine.
Bitter, bitter, O, to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.
Such were the works of Walsingham,
While she did stand;
Such were the wracks as now do show
Of that holy land.
Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which with their golden glittering tops
Pierced once to the sky.
Where were gates no gates are now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame far was blown.
Owls do shriek where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung;
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.
Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.
Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven turned is to hell.
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway;
Walsingham, O, Farewell.
 


 

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