Mary's House

Mary’s House (England)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In 1061 Lady Richeldis de Faverches, the widow of a Norman nobleman, experienced several visions of the Virgin Mary in which the Virgin spiritually took the Lady on a visit to the home in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel announced the coming birth of Jesus. In the vision, the Lady took measurements of the house so a replica of it could be built in Walsingham, England, where Lady Richeldis resided. At the replicated residence, visitors could acknowledge the Annunciation as the root of their redemption and seek help for a variety of needs. Once the plans for the house and the site were established, Lady Richeldis paid for its construction and for the erection of a stone chapel around the building. (Interestingly, the Walsingham church resembled a British residence of the period rather than a Palestinian house. A building that is claimed to be the original home of the virgin is found in Loretoxx5, Italy.)

In the twelfth century a soldier returning from the Holy Land brought with him a vial of what he claimed was the Virgin Mary’s milk. He donated the vial of this miraculously surviving substance to the shrine, and it served to further make Walsingham one of the most notable pilgrimage sites in the land—possibly the earliest of the great sites devoted to the Virgin that proliferated through the medieval period in Europe. At the height of the shrine’s popularity, a song about Walsingham was published that called attention to the healings that had occurred there, including the cure of leprosy.

Eventually, the house and chapel fell into the hands of the Augustinian order, which erected a monastery around it. Pilgrims found their way to the chapel regularly until Henry VIII began despoiling the British monasteries. In 1538 the Virgin’s house was torn down and the remains burned, as was a statue of the Virgin that graced the chapel. Further pilgrimages to the site were banned.

In the 1890s Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased a chapel that had been constructed along the road from London to Walsingham. It was termed the Slipper Chapel because here many pilgrims left their shoes and walked the last mile to the Virgin’s house barefoot. She donated the chapel to the Catholic Church, which refurbished it and installed a new statue of the Virgin. She received little support from most British Catholics of the time, for whom pilgrimages had lost their popularity. Then in 1931, in front of the well at the old monastic site in what is now the village of Little Walsingham, an Anglican priest named Alfred Hope-Patten built a replica of Mary’s house inside a new stone chapel. Hope-Patten’s action jogged the attention of the Catholic community, which moved a few years later to proclaimed the Slipper Chapel a national Catholic shrine. Subsequently, a large new church has been erected adjacent to it.

In the decades since the opening of the Anglican chapel at Walsingham, efforts have been made to promote pilgrimages, and at times the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and even the Orthodox Churches have cooperated on activities at the two sites. However, to this day, the acknowledgment of one site by the other is minimal.

There is also little discussion today of the lost vial of the Virgin’s milk or the finger claimed to have been from Saint Peter’s hand, which had attracted pre-Reformation pilgrims. However, the water from the well, believed to have curativepowers, remains, and daily a priest sprinkles pilgrims with it. Others carry small vials of the water home with them. Hundreds of testimonies of healings have been received by those currently managing the site. Pilgrims visit the site year round, but certain activities, in particular those associated with Mary (such as the feast of the Annunciation, March 25), are times for special religious services.

Sources:

Gilbert, H. M. Walsingham and Its Shrine. London: Oates & Washbourne, 1934.
Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham: England’s Nazareth. Norwich: Jarold Publishing, 1991.
Obbard, Elizabeth Ruth. The History and Spirituality of Walsingham. Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 1995.
Stephenson, Collin. The Walsingham Way. London: Dartman, Longman. and Todd, 1970.
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