24 September 2011

24 September - Our Lady of Walsingham

Weather: Ember Day - The weather today foretells the weather of December.

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, the patroness of England, whose shrine in Norfolk was a major pilgrimage site until its dissolution in 1538.

The original chapel was built in 1061 when a pious widow received three visions of the Holy Virgin and the house in Nazareth where the Annunciation took place. The lady then built a replica of the Santa Casa on her lands at Walsingham.  Subsequently a priory was established next to the shrine and given to the Canons of St. Augustine; later a large and beautifully appointed church was erected nearby.

Erasmus, in his derisive colloquy "Pilgrimage for Religion's Sake", describes the shrine as "...a small chapel, made of wainscot, and admitting the devotees on each side through a narrow little door.  The light is small, indeed scarcely any but from the wax lights.  A most grateful fragrance greets the nostrils... when you look in, you would say it was the mansion of the saints, so much does it glitter on all sides with jewels, gold, and silver."

Shrines were the tourist hot-spots for centuries, and pilgrimages to them were taken for a variety of motives.  Some pilgrims went with a truly pious intent, seeking the help of the holy figure in affairs of great importance; some traveled more in a holiday spirit, seeing the great sights and collecting souvenirs in the form of badges such as those seen here, from a page in the book of hours by the Master of Mary of Burgundy.  Images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints were stamped on disks of gold, silver, lead and tin, which were then pinned or tacked to the hats and clothes of the shrine's visitors, as a sign to all that they had indeed made the pilgrimage (bumper stickers hadn't been invented yet).

As with all tourist spots, a large economy grew up around the shrines and in communities along the roads leading thereto, which catered to the needs of the travelers.  Inns and hostels provided a roof and meals for those who could afford them; blacksmiths stood by to replace lost horse-shoes or replace a lame horse (the original flat tire) with a new mount; hucksters stood by to relieve the gullible of their money with spurious relics and games of chance; merchants sold goods, some from foreign countries, always tantalizing to the stay-at-home; jugglers and singers provided entertainment along the way. 

This ended as the shrines were suppressed and destroyed (as in England) or lost their value to minds now seeking to be impressed by the Beauties of Nature and the Palaces and Houses of the Great.  The following lament is for the loss of the Shrine, but could be for the loss of jobs it engendered and for the loss of that piety which found its devotion in the House of God rather than the Mansion of a Robber-Baron.

Lament for Walsingham

In the wracks of Walsingham
whom should I chuse
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be guide to my Muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
graunt me to frame
Bitter plantes to rewe thy wrong,
bitter wo for thy name.

Bitter was it, oh, to see
the sely sheepe
Murdred by the raveninge wolves,
while the sheepharde did sleep.

Bitter was it to viewe
the sacred vyne,
Whiles the gardiners plaied all close,
rooted up by the swine;

Bitter, bitter, oh, to behoulde
the grasse to growe,
Where the walls of Walsingham
so stately did shewe;

Such were the worth of Walsingham,
while she did stand,
Such are the wrackes as now do shewe
of that holy lande;

Levell, levell, with the ground,
the towres doe lye,
Which, with their golden glittring tops,
pearsed oute to the skye.

Wher weare gates noe gates are nowe,
the wais unknowen;
Wher the presse of peares did passe,
while her fame far was blowen.

Oules doe scrike wher the sweetest himnes
lately wear songe,
Toads and serpents hold their dennes,
wher the palmers did throng.

Weepe, weepe, O Walsingham,
whose dayes are nightes;
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
holy deedes to despites.

Sinne is where our Lady sate,
heaven turned is to helle,
Sathan sittes wher our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham, oh, farewell!

You can read the Lament in modern English here. (although I disagree with one of her conclusions - I think that the "Prince of Walsingham" refers to Our Lord and not to Henry VIII; Henry, of course, would not see any difference.)

There is more about the shrine at "Mary Pages" and at "Walsingham.org".