Our Lady of Walsingham is a title of Mary the mother of Jesus. The title derives from the belief that Mary appeared in a vision to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout English noblewoman, in 1061 in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, England. Lady Richeldis had a Holy House built in Walsingham which became a shrine and place of pilgrimage.
Richeldis de Faverches was a Saxon noblewoman, married to the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham Parva. He died leaving her a young widow with a son, Geoffrey.
We know that Richeldis had a deep faith in God and devotion to Mary. We know too of her reputation for good works in care and generosity towards those around her.
At this time there was a great deal of interest in the Holy Land and people undertook long and often dangerous pilgrimages there. Christian armies were soon to be engaged in a number of Crusades to liberate the holy sites from Muslim control and it is believed that Geoffrey eventually joined one of those Crusades as an expression of his Christian faith.
For Richeldis, however, the life of prayer and good works was rewarded by a vision in the year 1061. In this vision she was taken by Mary to be shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked Richeldis to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham. This is how Walsingham became known as England’s Nazareth.
The vision was repeated three times, according to legend, and retold through a fifteenth century ballad. The materials given by Richeldis were finally constructed miraculously one night into the Holy House, while she kept a vigil of prayer.
Although we cannot be certain that this story represents all the details of historical fact, we do know that in passing on his guardianship of the Holy House, Geoffrey de Faverches left instructions for the building of a Priory in Walsingham. The Priory passed into the care of Augustinian Canons somewhere between 1146 and 1174.
It was this Priory, housing the simple wooden structure Richeldis had been asked to build, which became the focus of pilgrimage to Walsingham. Royal patronage helped the Shrine to grow in wealth and popularity, receiving visits from Henry III, Edward II, Edward III, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII and Henry VIII, who finally brought about its destruction in 1538.
After nearly four hundred years, the 20th century saw the restoration of pilgrimage to Walsingham as a regular feature of Christian life in these islands, and indeed beyond.
This is a fearsome place: it is the house of God, the gate of heaven; it shall be named the palace of God (Gen 28:17). V. O Lord of hosts, how I love thy dwelling-place! For the courts of the Lord’s house, my soul faints with longing (Ps 83:2-3). Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. This is a fearsome place: it is the house of God, the gate of heaven; it shall be named the palace of God (Gen 28:17).
The « fearsome place » is the Mother of God herself. She is « fearsome » not because she provokes fright, but because one cannot gaze upon her with being filled with wonder and awe. Mary is the fulfillment of the sign of the burning bush that filled Moses with a terrible awe and fascination.
Similarly, Mary is the House of God; she is the Gate of Heaven. These are titles of Our Lady familiar to all who pray the Litanies of Loreto: Domus Dei, Porta Caeli. Mary is the Palace of God; Mary is the Dwelling Place of the Word. In the verse of the Introit the Church gives free expression to her love for Mary: « O Lord of hosts, how I love thy dwelling-place! For the courts of the Lord’s house, my soul faints with longing » (Psalm 83:2-3). For the soul attuned to the liturgy this translates as: « O Lord of hosts, how I love Mary, thy Mother, thy dwelling–place! For Mary’s presence my soul faints with longing ».
O God, who in thy mercy didst sanctify the Blessed Virgin Mary’s house by the mystery of the Word made flesh, and didst miraculously place it in the heart of thy Church, grant that we may shun the abodes of sinners and become worthy to dwell in thy own holy house. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord who is God living and reigning with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, forever and ever. R. Amen
EPISTLE Eccles. 24: 11-13, 15-20
In all things, I sought rest and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord. Then the Creator of all things commanded, and said to me; and He that made me rested in my tabernacle. And He said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob and thine inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect. And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem: and I took root in an honorable people, and in the portion of my God His inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of Saints. I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on Mount Sion: I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho, as a fair olive tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted. I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatic balm: I yielded a sweet odor like the best myrrh.
One request I have ever made of the Lord, let me claim it still, to dwell in the Lord’s house my whole life long. V. Gazing at the beauty of the Lord, haunting his sanctuary (Ps 26:4). Alleluia, alleluia. How blessed, Lord, are those who dwell in thy house! They will be ever praising thee (Ps 83:5). Alleluia.
GOSPEL St Luke 1: 26-38
At that time: And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of His kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren. Because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.
I will betake myself to thy house, and bow down before thy sanctuary, and praise thy name (Ps 5:8).
Lord, we pray thee, graciously accept the gifts we offer in this holy house; and grant that, with the merits of the Blessed Virgin pleading for us, these same gifts may prove a help to our salvation. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen
PREFACE of the Blessed Virgin Mary
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God: and that we should praise and bless, and proclaim Thee, in the Festivity of the Blessed Mary, ever-Virgin: Who also conceived Thine only-begotten Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, and the glory of her virginity still abiding, gave forth to the world the everlasting Light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, and the Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with these we entreat Thee that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted while we say with lowly praise:
Blessed is he who hears my voice, who watches daily before my gates, and waits at the threshold of my doors. He who shall find me, shall find life, and draw from the Lord salvation (Prov 8:34-35).
In the Communion Antiphon, Our Lady makes a mighty promise: « He who shall find me, shall find life and draw from the Lord salvation ». She speaks, of course, of her Divine Son, « the Way, the Truth, and the Life » (John 14:6). « If you find me », says Mary, « I will see to it that you find my Son, and in finding my Son, you will have found everything and lack nothing ».
We beseech thee, Lord our God, that the sacred rites thou hast bestowed upon us to safeguard this new life of ours may, through the intercession of Blessed Mary, the ever-virgin, bring us healing now and in time to come. Through Christ our Lord.