Words on the Word

Our Lady of Walsingham

It was during the reign of Edward the Confessor that a Norfolk noblewoman, after entertaining a vision of the Holy House of Nazareth, ordered a model built at Walsingham. Her masons had hardly got stuck in before they found the work completed by a team of engineers from quite a different league. As a fifteenth-century ballad has it: ‘Our blessed Laydie with blessed minystrys,/Herself being here chief Artificer/Arrered thys sayde house with Angells handys,/And not only rered it but sette it there it is.’

The history of the chapel entered a new phase in 1169 when a descendant of the foundress, Geoffrey de Favraches, appointed it as a priory of Austin Canons. On the day he set his seal to the deed of gift, he left on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The coincidence says a lot. The same man who longed to touch places hallowed by Christ’s presence was anxious to affirm this shrine of the Annunciation, the mystery that marks the eruption of the divine in history. We find ourselves only three years after the death of St Aelred, who had charmed England with a new kind of piety, centred on the humanity, the approachability of the Son of God. The urge of the twelfth century to touch the human reality of Christ lets us touch the essence of Walsingham, as pertinent now as it was then. Walsingham reminds us that our faith is not a myth. It reminds us that the presence of God on earth was real, traceable even in material things. And it challenges us to open our own lives to the eternal unfolding of that presence. Walsingham, like the Angelus we recite three times daily, tells us that the Angel’s message to Mary is addressed to us, too. Will we, you and I, put our lives utterly at God’s disposal to give him a foothold in our world? The question is real. This Mass offers us a privileged opportunity to make the Virgin’s answer our own: ‘I am the Lord’s entirely. Let it be to me according to your word.’

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