Walsingham Festival at Westminster Abbey

Saturday 4th May 2019 was one of those ‘once in a lifetime experiences’.  Three members of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, the Revd Paul Bagott SChLJ, the Revd John Eldridge SChLJ (Deputy Chaplain-General) and Chevalier Dr David KCLJ (Commander of Wales), were privileged to be at the epicentre of an unique event at Westminster Abbey.  Fr Paul was present as a Priest Vicar of Westminster Abbey.  Fr John and Dr Woolf were there as members of the Order of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The Chapter of Guardians of the Holy House, the members of the Order of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Rector of the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham (Monsignor John Armitage), Priests and Deacons Associate of the Holy House and the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey all gathered in St Margaret’s Westminster where the image of Our Lady of Walsingham had rested overnight.

 

We processed the image from St Margaret’s Westminster into the Abbey via the great West doors. Two thousand pilgrims packed the Abbey and gave the image a rousing welcome with the Pilgrim Hymn.  An excerpt from the blog of the Catholic Shrine of OLW captures the feelings of many of us present yesterday:

“Westminster Abbey hosted today the most remarkable Festival of prayer in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The Abbey was given over totally to the honour of Our Blessed Lady and her Divine Son Jesus. Our Lady of Walsingham was processed into the Abbey to an organ fanfare and solemnly placed on the very spot where the Kings and Queens of England are crowned.  The significance of this spiritually speaking cannot be emphasised enough.  England is the Dowry of Mary and today Our Lady of Walsingham was strategically placed right back in the centre of our National Life both physically and spiritually.  It was a solemn gesture of faith and trust in the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, “For when England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England.”  There is much more to say, and then at the end of the day Our Lady of Walsingham was processed out at the end of solemn Evensong and placed ... get this ... in front of the Coronation Chair.  Another significant placing and gesture. ‘Dos tua pia haec est, quare leges, Maria’ This is your Dowry O pious Virgin. Do thou rule in it.’ These are the renowned words of King Richard the II when he offered England to Our Lady as her Dowry on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1381.  This took place in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew in Westminster Abbey.  Our Lady of Walsingham, our Mother, our protectress and our Queen, come and reign over us once more. Amen.”

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, celebrated the Pilgrim Eucharist at which the Master of the College of Guardians, Bishop Philip North, preached the homily.  After lunch Professor Eamon Duffy FBA, delivered a most erudite, and often amusing, lecture on the history of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.  The pilgrimage concluded with Solemn Evensong at which the homilist was Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the New Evangelisation.   All present are most grateful to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey for their gracious hospitality and for making the Walsingham Festival an unforgettable experience.