Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Our Lady of Walsingham

About halfway down the country of England, on its eastern, North Sea coast, is the county of Norfolk, and in the county of Norfolk is the little town of Walsingham. There, in the early 11th century, during the reign of St. Edward the Confessor, lived an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman named Richeldis de Faverches.

Richeldis was a very pious woman, known for her charity and her devotion to the Blessed Virgin. She had her trials, having been widowed with a young son to raise, but her fidelity was rewarded by a series of visions. The Blessed Virgin appeared to her three times, each time asking her to have built a replica of her home in Nazareth, the place at which St. Gabriel the Archangel made his Annunciation to her that she was to become the mother of the Messias.

During these visions, Richeldis was taken "in the spirit" and shown the house that Our Lady wanted built. The Pynson Ballad, printed in the late 15th century (and which you can read in full below) relates that Richeldis was shown where to build the house by noticing a place in a meadow where dew refused to settle. Carpenters came to build as Richeldis instructed, but

sone their werkes shewed inconvenyente.
For no pece with oder wolde agre with geometrye;
Than were they all sory and full of agonye
That they could nat ken neither mesure ne marke
To ioyne togyder their owne proper werke.

Nothing they did seemed to work. Then, while praying at night, Richeldis heard angelic singing, went to look, and saw angels departing, leaving the built house in their wake:

All nyghte the wydowe remayninge in...prayer,
Oure blyssed Lady, with hevenly mynystrys,
Hirsylfe beynge here chyef artyfycer,
Arerid this sayd house with aungellys handys,

Once the wooden Holy House was built, it was encased in an outer structure of stone and became a place of miracles and of pilgrimage, a destination as popular as Canterbury where St. Thomas Becket was martyred. Adding to the attraction of "England's Nazareth" was a beautiful statue of Our Lady holding her Son. She was shown seated on a simple throne, with a Saxon crown on her head. In one hand, she held a scepter out of which sprang three lilies, representing her virginity before, during, and after Christ's birth. Beneath her feet was a toadstone, symbolizing evil, and bringing to life Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." On her lap, the Christ Child held the Gospels, and raised one hand in a blessing. This statue of "Our Lady of Walsingham" became associated with God's working of great miracles.

After Richeldis's death, her son Geoffrey built a priory for Augustinian monks on the property, and they spiritually cared for the pilgrims who came. And come they did! From all over England palmers would flock to Walsingham, stopping on their way at a tiny chapel located a mile away from the Holy House. There, they would remove their shoes so they could walk the final mile -- "the Holy Mile" -- barefoot, in the pilgrim tradition. Because of its use as the place to remove shoes, that chapel became known as "the Slipper Chapel."

The Slipper Chapel

Among the pilgrims were many illustrious figures, such as Erasmus and the palmer of all palmers, the dramatic Marjory Kempe who lived nearby. And there were many, many monarchs who made their way to Walsingham. Kings Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, David Bruce of Scotland, Henry IV, Edward IV, and Henry VI all came to the Holy House to worship. In its heyday, the interior of the Holy House must have positively glistened with candlelight reflecting off the gold and silver votive offerings left behind. A notice regarding the place during King Edward I's reign reads:

The King offered to the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham a clasp of gold of the value of eight marks, and the Queen a clasp of the value of six-and-a-half marks. Henry, Duke of Lancaster, gave a vase with handles of the value of four hundred marks; and his father presented an Angelical Salutation with precious stones, also valued at four hundred marks. In 1376 Sir Thomas de Uvedale gave a tablet of silver-gilt with a painted image.

Henry VIII came to Walsingham, too, as did his unfortunate first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who visited many times. Henry VIII himself visited at least twice, walking barefoot for the Holy Mile and leaving a necklace of great value as an offering. He also paid to have the windows glazed in 1511 and 1512, and he paid a yearly stipend to keep a candle always burning there to symbolize his prayers.

But then Henry VIII lost his mind, and lost the Faith when he set his eyes on Catherine of Aragaon's successor, Anne Boleyn. His desire for her, and the Pope's unwillingness to bend God's law for him and condone a divorce from Catherine, caused Henry to break away from the Church and set up his own. With the Act of Supremacy, he became the head of the Anglican church, the pope of England. Then he went on a great looting operation, seizing Catholics' churches, properties, and wealth, and destroying what he didn't steal.

Catholics didn't take all this lying down. There were revolts across the land, most famously with the "Pilgrimage of Grace" in 1536, in which 40,000 Catholics marched to Lincoln and occupied the cathedral there, demanding to be allowed to practice the Catholic Faith as it had always been practiced. There was Bigod's Rebellion in 1537, and other such uprisings. All were squelched, with Catholics being beheaded, hanged, burned at the stake, or drawn and quartered for wanting to believe and worship as their ancestors did.

Then, in 1538, Henry and his minister, Thomas Cromwell, set their sights on Walsingham.The Judas-hearted Augustinian prior sold out, helping the King's officers do their dirty work, all for a pension of 100 pounds a year. But the sub-prior and many of the monks resisted the treachery, and were put to death for "treason." The Holy House fell victim to Henry and Cromwell's predations, being completely demolished. The miraculous statue of Our Lady and her Son was said to have been burned. The Augustinian priory was reducted to nothing but its portals, and the land it sat on was sold to one of Henry VIII's friends.

Remains of the Augustinian Priory

Walsingham was no more.

Catholics' feelings about the situation were memorialized in a lament written by Saint Philip Howard -- the 13th Earl of Arundel and a man who, for the cause of upholding the Faith, lost everything he had, eventually becoming one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. It was set to the music of an older, popular song about Walsingham (Shakespeare refers to it in "Hamlet"), and William Byrd wrote a variation, which music you can hear below as you read St. Philip's text (note that "wracks" means "wreck" or "ruins"):

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be my guide and muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.

Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.

Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.

Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.

Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.

Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.

Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.

Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway
Walsingham, O farewell!

Rebirth of Walsingham

Throughout all the upheaval and diabolical goings-on, the Slipper Chapel survived. It served different purposes throughout the centuries, being used at various times as a poorhouse, a blacksmith's shop, and even a cowshed. But in 1896, it was bought by a woman who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. She used her own money to restore it, and then got Pope Leo XIII to re-authorize its use as a Catholic shrine.

In 1897, a replica of the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was made in Oberammergau, Germany -- home of the famous decennial passion play -- and blessed in Rome. German artisans studied a medieval seal from the Augustinian priory to make the statue, using the seal's clear depiction of the statue as a guide. The statue now resides in the Slipper Chapel (see a picture of the statue in the Slipper Chapel here).

In 1934, the Bishop of Northampton offered Mass at the Slipper Chapel, the first time Mass was offered at the site in 400 years. Then, a few days later, Cardinal Francis Bourne led to the srhine a great pilgrimage of Catholic and Welsh Bishops, along with 10,000 lay Catholics. Afterward, the Slipper Chapel was designated the National Shrine of Our Lady for England.

In 1954, the replica statue was officially crowned by the authority of Pope Pius XII, being one of the relatively few images so honored.

In 2015, the tiny Slipper Chapel was raised to the status of a basilica, being known now as the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham.

And today Walsingham is once again a site of pilgrimage! There are still longer pilgrimages made, such as from London or Norwich (125 miles and 37 miles away, respectively), but the typical pilgrim now arrives by car, bus or train and goes to the Slipper Chapel. Then he will walk the Holy Mile, barefoot, shoes in hand, until he arrives at the site where the Holy House once stood, near the ruins of the Augustinian abbey.

Know that the Anglicans have their new shrine in Walsingham as well. In 1922, an Anglican cleric had a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham made and set up in the parish church of St. Mary. When Anglican pilgrims proved to be numerous, a new building -- the Shrine Church -- was built and and is now designated as the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Inside it is a facsimile of the Holy House.

Our Lady of Walsingham is to England what the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe are to the Americas, and given that England is known as "Our Lady's Dowry" in the same way that France is known as "la Fille Aînée de l'Église" (the Eldest Daughter of the Church), so Our Lady of Walsingham is also known as "Our Lady of the Dowry." She is the symbol of the health of England akin to how the Salus Populi Romani icon is the same for the people of Italy, and Pope Leo XIII said -- prophesied? -- that "when England returns to Walsingham, Mary will return to England." Pray that England is restored to the true Faith!


In 1925, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London bought a 13th century wooden statue depicting Our Lady and her Son. The statue was long noted for looking like the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, but its owners said it came from Langham. It was assumed that this "Langham" referred to a town in Essex. But there is a Langham in Norfolk as well. And the Langham in Norfolk is a mere six miles away from Walsingham. The UK's Catholic Herald gives reasons for believing that this statue may well be the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham: 1

The vicar of Langham, John Grigby, was arrested in 1537 for his part in the “Walsingham Conspiracy” of Catholics who resisted the destruction of the Shrine. Langham Hall was the home of the Calthorpe family, who became notable recusants, and was inherited in 1555 by the Catholic Rookwood family of Euston, Suffolk. Although the present Langham Hall dates only from the 1820s, Langham Hall in Essex is not much older. It was built between 1756 and 1772.

The Rookwood family of Euston, owners of Langham Hall from 1555, attempted to save at least one other image of Our Lady in the post-Reformation period. In 1578 Edward Rookwood was found in possession of a statue of Our Lady at Euston, hidden in a hayrick, during a visit from Queen Elizabeth I. Rookwood was imprisoned and the statue burned. It is altogether plausible that the Rookwoods were involved in concealing another Marian statue at Langham Hall.

The Langham Madonna has not been carbon-dated, so the possibility that it is a later medieval copy of a 13th-century original cannot be ruled out. However, in addition to its striking general resemblance to the seal image of Our Lady of Walsingham (the basis of all modern reconstructions of the statue), the Langham Madonna bears tell-tale marks that suggest it is the original statue, rather than a copy.

The first of these is a band around the Virgin’s head that was clearly intended to hold a crown (there is a gap in the back of the band allowing the crown to be seated securely under tension). The crown was given by Henry III in 1246. If the statue were a copy, we might expect to find a carved crown of the kind often found on modern copies of the statue, rather than a band to allow the fitting of an actual crown.

The second tell-tale sign is the presence of a large V cut at the base of the statue, clearly deliberate and very smoothly incised by a sharp chisel. According to Erasmus, who visited Walsingham in 1512 and 1524, there was a toadstone beneath the Virgin’s feet. Since this was a unique feature of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, the chisel marks on the surviving statue may be evidence of the removal of the gem.

The third sign that this statue may be Our Lady of Walsingham is the presence of seven dowel holes at the back of the image. The seal of Walsingham Priory depicts Our Lady sitting on a high-backed throne. While as many as seven dowel holes would seem unnecessary for holding in place a simple backing board, they would have been necessary to affix a high-backed throne.

(Note: If the Langham Madonna is the original statue, then Our Lady's veil was made of cloth instead of being carved from the wood itself.)


Note that September 24 is not a traditional feast day in honor of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham was added to the liturgical calendar on that date long after the devastating liturgical changes were made after Vatican II, so those using the 1962 calendar won't be celebrating it liturgically. But Our Lady of Walsingham is extremely important, and it is a good thing to take at least a day to bring her to mind, and today is as good as any given that Catholics (and Anglicans) around the world are celebrating this day as a feast. Perhaps one day, when we once again have a trustworthy Pope who safeguards tradition, the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham can be added to the traditional calender without fear of other feasts being taken away. As things are, September 24 is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom per the traditional, 1962 calendar -- but as the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, "In England the devotion to Our Lady of Ransom was revived in modern times to obtain the rescue of England as Our Lady's Dowry." In fact, a group was formed to pray and work for this cause -- the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom. Archbishop Cardinal Manning and St. John Henry Cardinal Newman were the first two priests to join, and Pope Leo XIII was its first president.

So please, pray today to Our Lady of Ransom -- or to the same woman as Our Lady of Walsingham -- for England, Wales, and the entire West, to return to Christ's Church -- and for the entirety of the human element of Christ's Church to once again preserve Tradition and shape itself around the transcendentals. Praise God for the seed of renewal that is being planted in the reborn Walsingham! A prayer for the cause, written by Cardinal Wiseman 1802-1865, Archbishop of Westminster and member of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom:

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, thy Dowry, and upon all of us who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children whom thou did receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O sorrowful Mother.

Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold we may all be united under the chief shepherd of Christ's flock, and that by faith and fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.

Praying the Litany of Intercession for England, from The Golden Manual (1850), is another particularly good way to pray today.

For more personal prayer for the day, this one would serve you well:

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. Amen

Aside from prayer, and pilgrimage to Walsingham if one is blessed to be able to be in Norfolk at this time, there are no particular Our Lady of Walsingham-related customs of the day given its newness as a liturgical feast in the Novus Ordo. There is, though, a hymn to Our Lady of Walsingham that I can share. It's called 'Mary of Walsingham (Mother of Jesus)":

Mary of Walsingham, Mother of Jesus,
Pray for thy Dowry, the land that we love;
England has need of thy powerful protection,
Pour on thy children thy gifts from above.

Thou who didst summon thy servant Richeldis,
Bidding her build to thine honour a Shrine,
Help us to follow in thy blessed footsteps,
Framing our lives on the pattern divine.

Countless the pilgrims whose footsteps have echoed
Down through the years along Walsingham’s Way;
Countless the prayers that thy children have offered;
Mary of Walsingham, hear us, we pray.

Many long years saw thine image neglected,
Only a few sought the help of thy prayers:
Walsingham’s Shrine now again in its beauty,
Welcomes each pilgrim who thither repairs.

Pray for us then, blessed Mary, our Mother,
Pray for thy children who kneel at thy Shrine,
Pray that thy Son upon this land beloved
Pour down his favours and blessings divine.

So shall we praise thee with ceaseless thanksgiving,
So shall we sing of thy love and thy power,
So shall we feel thy protection and comfort,
All through our lives and in death’s solemn hour.

There are no special food customs associated with devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham that I am aware of, but I can offer a recipe for Norfolk Shortcakes, said to be very traditionally Norfolkian, ubiquitous in the area, and good with tea:

Norfolk Shortcakes

455g (1lb, or 3.6 cups) self-rising flour
170g (6oz) butter or lard
170g (6oz) sugar
285g (10oz) currants, raisins, or sultanas or mixture thereof
1 egg, beaten
Mixed spice or lemon zest to taste, optional
A little milk, just enough to make a dough
1 egg, beaten, for an egg wash
Sugar for sprinkling

Rub butter or lard into flour until you get a crumbly mixture. Add the sugar, fruit, and first beaten egg along with any mixed spice or zest, if you're using. Mix in just enough milk to form a dough ball. Roll out to about 1/2 inch thick, cut into shapes as you like. Brush with the second beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar (coarse-grained pearl sugar if you have it), and bake at 350F for around 20 minutes.

See also the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom with which Our Lady of Walsingham is closely associated.


The Pynson Ballad
Printed by Richard Pynson, late 15th century

Of this chapell se here the fundacyon,
Bylded the yere of crystes incarnacyon,
A thousande complete syxty and one,
The tyme of sent Edward kyng of this region.

Beholde and se, ye goostly folkes all,
Which to this place have devocyon
When ye to Our Lady askynge socoure call
Desyrynge here hir helpe in your trybulacyon:
Of this hir chapell ye may se the fundacyon.
If ye wyll this table overse and rede
Howe by myracle it was founded indede.

A noble wydowe, somtyme lady of this towne,
Called Rychold, in lyvynge full vertuous,
Desyred of Oure Lady a petycyowne
Hir to honoure with some werke bountyous,
This blyssed Virgyn and Lady most gracyous
Graunted hir petycyon, as I shall after tell,
Unto hir worschyp to edefye this chapell.

In spyryte Our Lady to Nazareth hir led
And shewed hir the place where Gabryel hir grette:
"Lo doughter, consyder" to hir Oure Lady sayde,
"Of thys place take thou suerly the mette,
Another lyke thys at Walsyngham thou sette
Unto my laude and synguler honoure;
All that me seke there shall fynde socoure,

Where shall be hadde in a memoryall
The great joy of my salutacyon.
Fyrste of my joys grounde and orygynall
Rote of mankyndes gracious redempcyon,
When Gabryell gave to me relacyon
To be a moder through humylyte.
And goddys sonne conceyve in virgynyte"

This visyon shewed thryse to this devout woman.
In mynde well she marked both length and brede;
She was full gladde and thanked Oure Lady than
Of hir great grace never destytute in nede.
This forsayd hous in haste she thought to spede,
Called to hir artyfycers full wyse,
This chapell to forge as Our Lady dyd devyse.

All this, a medewe wete with dropes celestyall
And with sylver dewe sent from hye adowne
Excepte tho tweyne places chosen above all
Where neyther moyster ne dewe myght be fowne.
This was the fyrste pronostycacyowne
Howe this our newe Nazareth here shold stande,
Bylded lyke the fyrste in the Holy Lande.

Whan it was al fourmed, than had she great doute
Where it shold be sette and in what maner place,
Inasmoche as tweyne places were founde oute
Tokened with myracle of Our Ladyes grace;
That is to say, tweyne quadrates of egall space
As the flees of Gedeon in the wete beynge drye,
Assygned by myracle of holy mayde Marye.

The wydowe thought it most lykly of congruence
This house on the fyrste soyle to bylde and arere.
Of this who lyste to have experyence,
A chapell of saynt Laurence standeth nowe there
Faste by tweyne wells, experyence doth thus lere,
There she thought to have set this chapell
Which was begonne by Our Ladyes counsell.

The carpenters began to set the fundamente
This hevenly house to arere up on hye,
But sone their werkes shewed inconvenyente.
For no pece with oder wolde agre with geometrye;
Than were they all sory and full of agonye
That they could nat ken neither mesure ne marke
To ioyne togyder their owne proper werke.

They went to reste and layde all thynge on syde,
As they on their maystresse had a commaundement;
She thought Our Lady, that fyrste was hir gyde,
Wold convey this worke aftyr hir owne entent;
Hir meyny to reste as for that nyght she sente
And prayed Our Lady with devoute exclamacyon,
And as she had begonne, to perfowrme that habytacion.

All nyghte the wydowe remayninge in this prayer,
Oure blyssed Lady, with hevenly mynystrys,
Hirsylfe beynge here chyef artyfycer,
Arerid this sayd house with aungellys handys,
And nat only reyrd it but set it there it is,
That is, two hundred fote and more in dystaunce
From the fyrste place bokes make remembraunce.

Erly whan the artyfycers cam to their travayle
Of this sayd chapell to have made an ende,
They founde eche parte conjoyned sauns fayle
Better than they coude conceyve it in mynde;
Thus eche man home agayne dyd wynde,
And this holy matrone thanked Oure Lady
Of hir great grace shewyd here specyally.

And syth here Our Lady hath shewyd many myrac
leInnumerable, nowe here for to expresse
To suche as visyte thys hir habytacle.
Ever lyke newe to them that call hir in dystrsse.
Foure hundreth yere and more the cronacle to witnes
Hath endured this notable pylgrymage,
Where grace is dayly shewyd to men of every age.

Many seke ben here cured by Our Ladyes myghte
Dede agayne revyved, of this is no dought,
Lame made hole and blynde restored to syghte,
Maryners vexed with tempest safe to porte brought
Defe, wounded and lunatyke that hyder have sought
And also lepers here recovered have be
By Oure Ladyes grace of their infyrmyte.

Folke that of fendys have had acombraunce
And of wycked spyrytes also moche vexacyon
Have here be delyvered from every such chaunce,
And soules greatly vexed with gostely temptacion,
Lo. here the chyef solace agaynst all tribulacyon
To all that be seke, bodely or goostly,
Callynge to Oure Lady devoutly.

Therfore every pylgryme gyve your attendaunce
Our Lady here to serve with humble affeccyon.Y
our sylfe ye applye to do hir plesaunce.
Remembrynge the great joye of hir Annunciacion.
Therwyth concevynge this brief complacyon.
Though it halte in meter and eloquence.
It is here wryten to do hyr reverence.

All lettred that wyll have more intellygence
Of the fundacyon of this chapell here,
If you wyll aske bokes shall you encence
More clerely to undersclnde this forsayd matere;
To you shall declare the cronyclere
All cyrcumstaunce by a noble processe
Howe olde cronyclers of thys bere wytnesse.

O Englonde, great cause thou haste glad for to be,
Compared to the londe of promys syon,
Thou atteynest my grace to stande in that degre
Through this gloryous Ladyes supportacyon,
To be called in every realme and regyon
The holy lande, Oure Ladyes dowre;
Thus arte thou named of olde antyquyte.

And this is the cause, as it apereth by lyklynesse,
In the is belded newe Nazareth, a mancyon
To the honoure of the hevenly empresse
And of hir moste gloryous salutacyon,
Chyef pryncypyll and grounde of oure salvacyon,
Whan Gabryell sayd at olde Nazereth 'Ave',
This joy here dayly remembred for to be.

O gracyous Lady, glory of Jerusalem,
Cypresse of Syon and Joye of Israel,
Rose of Jeryco and Sterre of Bethleem,
O gloryous Lady, our askynge nat repell,
In mercy all wymen ever thou doste excell,
Therfore, blissed Lady, graunt thou thy great grace
To all that the devoutly visyte in this place.


ouerse=turn over
spede=accomplish successfully
experyence=to enquire
sauns fayle=without (sans) fail or mistake
acombraunce=have been oppressed by fiends
conceyuynge=taking notice of
lettred=literate persons



1 Source:

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