Our Lady's Mirror

Spring 1937

St George's Altar in the parish church
On Whit Monday at 11.15 a Parish party arrived from Norwich and sang Mass at the Lady Chapel of the Parish Church and then proceeded to the Shrine for their first visit. In the meantime a Pilgrimage from Northampton processed through the village to the Holy House; each of these groups followed the usual programme. At 5 o’clock charabancs from Bradford and Oakworth drew up before the West Entrance, bearing the annual Yorkshire Pilgrimage, which stayed until Tuesday afternoon. Scarcely had our goodbyes been said to our Northern friends when the Society of Mary and the Catholic League bedecked in the blue veils and other insignia associated with these pilgrims came to the Sanctuary and remained at Walsingham until Thursday. With the Catholic League came Father Behr and Father Theocretoff, both of the Holy Orthodox Russian Church; this was their second pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham. One day’s breathing space and then from S. John’s, Isle of Dogs, came members of that congregation on an annual visit to the Holy House. Owing to the rains the Holy Well is unusually full, the water coming within about two feet of the top. Work is very complicated this year, owing first to our having to clear the Sacristy away for the builders, and so we are living without one, and secondly, owing to our having only one door available into the gardens. The outer Church looks somewhat like a storeroom which does not impress the visitors. On Coronation Day, after the Rosary, a cedar of Lebanon was planted in the courtyard of the Shrine to commemorate this great National event. We have again to thank Sir William Milner for a further generous gift of land for the extension of the Shrine. He has had transferred to the Walsingham College Trust Association, part of the gardens of the Hospice and S. Augustine’s, together with ten feet of the Pilgrim Refectory. It will be remembered that it was owing to Sir William’s kindness we were able to build the Shrine on its present site. THE EXTENSION In April work began on the extension of the Shrine and on May 31st the Anniversary of the death of Nicholas Mileham, who was on that day burnt at the stake in Walsingham for resisting the putting down of the Shrine, the first bricks were laid of the “North” wall, just beyond the site of the Church Cross. This was another of the peculiar coincidences connected with the Shrine and only “struck” the writer just as he was penning this article. Tons of earth have had to be removed from the site as the ground rises very much from the Shrine to the Hospice garden, so that we shall look down on the Church from part of the Via Dolorosa. At the moment you never saw such a hopeless mess of bricks and flints and mortar machines and lorries on the site, and the dust – well, at times it’s like a small sand-storm! The Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows has gone, as, too, the walls dividing S. Augustine and the Hospice gardens, and the area is enclosed in wire fences to prevent the over-interested from straying and perhaps getting hurt or, worse still, doing hurt! Ten feet of the Refectory has had to be sacrificed, but the interior space has been balanced by taking down the dividing wall, which separated the pilgrims’ dining room from the cart-shed beyond, and so we have gained about 20 feet. As we go to Press nearly all of the “footings” are in and we hope the next weeks will show a rapid growth in the external walls. Much interest is evinced by pilgrims and visitors in these building operations and especially in the site of the Scouts’ Chapel. REMARKABLE DISCOVERIES IN THE SHRINE GARDEN In preparation for the foundation of the extension, considerable excavations have been undertaken to the “East” of the present building, as it was considered essential that we should try to find out what the old foundations, which partly lie under the existing Shrine, were. We had been of the opinion ever since 1931 that they might have been the remains of the original Holy House. When, however, we began to open up the garden, we discovered, running parallel with the walls under the Shrine, a narrow “footing” of flint work, roughly 48 feet long (interior measurement), but, alas, the interior was only 20 feet wide, whereas our only authority for the dimension of the outer building of the Shrine, William of Worcester, states that it was 30 feet wide. As the work went on, the foundation of a small tower or turret at the North-West angle was uncovered, with the indication of a similar one at the South-West. When these external measurements were taken it was discovered that from the North wall of the North-West tower to the South wall of the South-West tower, the distance was just 30 feet. These measurements are remarkable, assuming that they are the foundations of the original building that covered the Holy House. It seems that, for some reason not at present clear, it was not possible for William of Worcester to take the interior width, so he paced the length inside and the width outside. Was it because the Holy House and other things within took up so much of the interior that he was not able to pace it? Longitude novi operis de Walsingham continet in toto 16 virgas; latitude continet infra aream 10 virgas. The expression infra aream has been the subject of much discussion for many years past. Do these measurements interior and exterior, explain them? Further, at the East end of these foundations have been discovered fragments of flint work which seem to indicate very clearly the existence at one time of two other turrets, corresponding to those at the West end, while, in the centre of the North wall are the remains of what is evidently a North Porch. The remarkable things is that the little building depicted on the reverse of the 13th Century Seal of the Priory shows just such a building as could be reconstructed on the foundations uncovered. We are told not to lay too much stress on the evidence of seals as they were very often unreliable and general in form, but in our case it does seem a coincidence to say the least. Further, at the West end about 13 feet away we have uncovered a solid mass of flintwork, 6 feet by 5 feet with a hole in the centre, which seemed without any doubt to have been the base of a Churchyard Cross. At the East end again we are opening out a rectangular space enclosed by the outer side of the East wall of the foundations, the North and South walls of the turrets and closed by a wall to the East, this space runs the whole width of the East wall. These foundations and those of the Priory Church in the Abbey grounds are exactly parallel. Archaeologists have seen these excavations and the opinions are: (a) Decidedly mediæval work; (b) Clearly Saxon or Norman done by Saxon workmen; (c) Definitely Saxon. So far the consensus of opinion is that they may be the foundations of the original building of the Shrine. The distance between these foundations and the Priory Church is quite understandable when we realise that water is touched within eighteen inches of the floor of this foundation, so that it was obviously necessary for the Canons when they came and started to set up their Church and domestic buildings to find more solid ground. It also helps to explain why the Shrine, if this be it, was not either enclosed or made part of the Canons’ Church. On all sides we have been told that it would be vandalism to cover up these finds and that it is our duty to so close them in that they can at any time be inspected and examined, at it seems that for the sake of future generations we shall have to form a crypt of the very simplest form for this purpose, and for this we require at least another £200. Is there anyone who is prepared to give this? illustration: two photographs of the Foundations; Enid Chadwick's drawing of St George's altar in the parish church [above]