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Definition: Walsingham from The Columbia Encyclopedia

town (1991 pop. 18,050), Norfolk, E central England. It is the site of Walsingham Abbey, one of the renowned shrines of medieval England.


Summary Article: Walsingham from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Village in Norfolk, England, 8 km/5 mi north of Fakenham; population (2001) 864. There are ruins of an Augustinian priory founded in 1153, which was a centre of pilgrimage until its destruction during the Reformation. Pilgrimages to Walsingham were revived in 1897; they centre on the Slipper Chapel (Roman Catholic) 2 km/1 mi from the village, and on an Anglican shrine in the village.

According to tradition, in 1061 the Virgin Mary appeared three times to the lady of the manor. She felt as if she were transported to the house in Nazareth, where Mary was told that she was to have a son. A wooden replica of the ‘Holy House’ was built as a shrine to ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’, and later incorporated in the chapel of the Augustinian priory.

During the Middle Ages, pilgrims flocked to Walsingham, including the kings and queens of England, and the priory was richly endowed with gifts. The Renaissance humanist Erasmus wrote of its chapel, ‘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’. However, the shrine, priory, and a Franciscan friary, dating from the late 13th century, were destroyed in 1538 on the orders of Henry VIII.

The pilgrimages were revived in 1897, and in 1931 a vicar of the Church of England supervised the building of a new ‘Holy House’. The house was built for Anglicans and was intended to represent the Christian belief of the Incarnation, when God was made man in Jesus. Pilgrims can reflect upon the significance of the Incarnation and the work of God in human history.

Since the revival of the pilgrimages, both Roman Catholics and Anglicans (Church of England) have visited the priory dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’. Walsingham attracts around half a million pilgrims each year. Most Anglican visitors belong to the section of the Church of England known as High Church. Although they do not accept the position of the pope, these Christians follow many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

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