In 2012, the world watched with bated breath to see how England’s Olympic opening ceremony would compare to the vibrant Beijing ceremonies in 2008. Could London 2012 achieve something similar to China, or would the event turn into a dreary 4-hour narrative of England’s past from a country so renowned for its history. Visitors to the UK often arrive with the same assumption, but the pilgrim to England is in for a surprise. From the treasures of Westminster Cathedral in the Capital to the many priest holes in mansions dotted around the country, England is a place that comes to life for a believer. To walk in the footsteps of England’s Blesseds and Saints is not only to relive history, but to witness the triumph of faith in England and in its culture.
Walsingham was chosen by Our Lady, in 1061, as the place to build a replica of the Holy Family house of Nazareth which soon became one of the great pilgrimage sites of Christendom and which continues to be a destination for pilgrims from all over the world today. It is the National Shrine of England, a place of year-round pilgrimage where young and old go to advance in their spiritual journey. Our Lady promised that Walsingham would become a refuge for “all who are in any way distressed, or in need… [they] that seek me there shall be given succour.” Today, Walsingham provides support for the pilgrim echoing the words of our Lord “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Walsingham, as Connelly says, is a place where “pilgrims… are seeking God through Our Lady” (Message of Walsingham, p27), and we are invited to bring our somewhat broken spirits to be healed through the intercession of Our Lady.
However, if you are unable to go to Walsingham, there are many other places you can pilgrimage to in order to reawaken the spirit of Catholic England. Catholic History walks, which are run throughout the year by Joanna Bogle, (more information below) are a great way to see the city whilst absorbing Catholic history at its finest. The walks usually culminate at sites of martyrdom, such as the Tyburn Gallows near Tyburn Convent, in Marble Arch. When you are in London, be sure to visit both Tyburn Gallows, and Tyburn Convent. Despite its closeness to London’s busiest junction and shopping district, it is a place of sanctuary where the faithful can come to adore Jesus perpetually exposed in the Eucharist and learn more about the many men and women who gave their lives to witness to the Faith. There are three daily tours of the shrine and the relics. On the first Sunday of each month the sisters open their doors to the public, explaining the history of the Tyburn Martyrs. Whether you are looking for rest from the crowded streets of London, or simply wanting to spend a few quiet moments in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Tyburn Convent is one of the best places to deepen your faith as you discover the Catholic heritage in England.
Famous stories recounted again and again can become tedious, but as Danny Boyle proved at the 2012 opening ceremony of the Olympics, the ability to make history come alive is amazing. So why not visit England, walk in the footsteps of some of the church’s greatest treasures – St Thomas More and St John Fisher, to name a few, and uncover an integral part of the history of the universal Church from the land once proclaimed as the ‘Dowry of Mary’. When you come, carry this prayer with you remembering to pray for the unity of the Church in England and the world:
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, your dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in you. By you it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our Hope, was given to the world; and he has given you to us that we may hope still more. Plead for us your children, whom you received and accepted at the foot of the Cross, O Mother of Sorrows. Pray for our separated brethren that in the one true Christ, we may all be united under the care of Pope Francis, the chief shepherd of Christ’s flock. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by Faith, and fruitful in good works, we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with you in our heavenly home.
– A Simple Rosary Book, p34
English Pilgrimage Essentials: