extracts from Walsingham Review Number 2 September 1961

Walsingham Review 2

The Fire at St Mary’s On the afternoon of July 14th, I went at 3.00 pm to hear confessions at St Mary’s as the Vicar was away. Afterwards, because it was raining, I sat quietly for a while in the church remembering the impression it made on me when I first saw it and wondering whether it still made the same impact on those who for the first time stand beside the magnificent font and look down its great length and experience the almost indescribable feeling of holiness and antiquity. I little thought that I was saying goodbye to the St Mary’s known, loved and worshipped in by so many people all over the world and the historic spot where in 1922 the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham was re-established. Only a week before the village people had come to a Sung Mass to commemorate the setting up of the image in their parish church and I administered the Chalice and then myself said Mass in the Guild’s Chapel where there were still many signs of those memorable years when the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham had been venerated upon the pillar where, after the Holy House had been rebuilt, an icon was set in fulfilment of Fr Patten’s promise to the Bishop that he would not place another image there. That evening when I retired to bed soon after 10.00 pm my telephone rang and it was the Reverend Mother to say that there seemed to be a fire somewhere as they could see a red glow from the convent and as she was afraid there might be people in trouble or even injured she asked whether she should send a Sister to find out where the fire was. I said that I had better get up in case anyone needed the Sacraments. I went to the window and by this time it was obvious that there was a big fire and I was afraid that it was the Abbey which was burning but almost immediately the phone rang again and Reverend Mother, in great distress, told me that St Mary’s was alight. I hurried down the village street where there was a feeling of crisis and the whole village was awake and some already were in tears. I could smell the burning as I approached and then as I turned the corner into Church Street, I could see the flames devouring this ancient and lovely building. The firemen were fighting gallantly to save the tower and spire which they did entirely through their determined efforts, but it was not until I went along the Sunk Road and looked at the church from that exciting side view, from which it has always impressed me with its great length, that I was able to see the full horror of the fire and I was there when the roof fell in with a sickening sound. Throughout it all the old clock struck out the quarters as though nothing was happening. Obviously the organ must have caught alight . . . how, we shall probably never know . . . but this carried the flames to the roof and by the time it was discovered the whole building was an inferno of flame so that it was impossible to save anything. Next day the Tabernacle was dug out of the ruins, but the Holy Sacrament had been consumed by the fire. There was nothing one could do but stand and watch it burn and it was an experience of such horror that my feelings just simply could not react to it and I just felt dead and empty. In fact, next morning when I awoke I wondered whether the whole thing had been a dream; it had so much the quality of a nightmare, but the ruins were there and a sorry sight they are. I do not believe that anyone who did not know St Mary’s could possibly imagine what it was like from what now remains and however it may be rebuilt, I am sure we shall always be grateful that we knew the old St Mary’s and the words which keep ringing in my ears that night and since are those with which Holy Week make us familiar: “Our holy and beautiful house where our father praised Thee is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things laid waste.” Walsingham Notes During August digging has been going on in the Abbey Grounds on the North Side of the Priory Church. It is too early to be able to say what the experts will say of the foundations which have been uncovered. Certainly everyone who has made a guess so far has been wrong. So little is known of the exact whereabouts of the different chapels and treasury, but there have been many who have always thought that this was the original site of the Holy House and the foundations discovered may well support this theory. Fr Patten at one time was inclined to think that the Holy House was first built where our Shrine now stands and then, for reasons which we do not know, was moved to be close to the Priory Church. This would account for the strange legend of the Angels moving the house from its original site. The boys of St Hilary’s Home have gone to Brighton for their holiday. This has been made possible by the kindness of Fr Favell who, this year has done what Fr Gillingham has done at Swansea in former years. We are so very grateful to these priests for the immense trouble they take and to all the kind people who give the boys hospitality. On Sunday, August 13th, the Archdeacon designate of Norwich, Canon Aitken, brought his parish of King’s Lynn over for an evening pilgrimage. There were nearly 300 of them and they came in procession to the Shrine singing the Litany. After visiting the Holy House they assembled in the garden and had a Sung Mass at the altar pavilion using the now popular Folk Mass by Geoffrey Beaumont as a setting. After Mass they came in Procession to the Holy Well and were sprinkled. With the growing custom of having Mass in the evening, there seems no reason why parishes which are close enough should not have a Sunday evening pilgrimage of this sort. A proper Confessional box has been constructed which has been a great need in a building as small as the Shrine Church. On the penitent’s side is a picture of St Mary Magdalen which used to hang in the Church of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, and on the priest’s side is a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel. On the top of the box is an ancient statue of St John Nepamok, the patron of Confessors. The splendid German Carving of Our Lady interceding for the Sick, which used to be in the Chapel of Agony, has been made part of the box into which Intercessions are placed and a picture has been promised of the Agony to form a reredos for this Chapel. British Railways have arranged a daily excursion (except weekends) to Walsingham, leaving Liverpool Street at 9.30 am. It gets back there at 9.17 pm and gives one about four hours at the Shrine and the cost is little over thirty shillings. This makes an individual day pilgrimage quite a reasonable proposition. “The Story of Walsingham” Members of St Stephen’s congregation, Worcester, presented “The Story of Walsingham” in tableaux on Saturday July 2nd, to mark the 900th Centenary of the building of the Holy House. The story, compiled by Bridget Monahan, was read by two Prologue Speakers, and the tableaux showed Our Lady appearing to Richeldis, the builders at work, and the builders visiting Richeldis and begging to be released from their task. A picture of the Shrine completed in the distance, near the River Stiffkey, gave colour to the next three tableaux. The last group of tableaux showed Our Lady and Child raised upon an altar with Henry VIII and other pilgrims visiting the Shrine. There was a final procession of small reliquaries representing the saints to whom the fifteen altars are dedicated. The evening ended with the singing of the Angelus, while a tableau of the Annunciation was displayed. Coloured photographs of these scenes are being prepared to fit a 2” x 2” Kodak projector, and will be available with the accompanying script to any who care to borrow them. The “story” takes about twenty minutes to show. Application (with postage enclosed) should be made to: Miss B Monahan, 37 Albany Terrace, Worcester.
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