Photos by John Aron
Our story begins before the Norman Invasion in 1066.
Five years earlier, a Lady of Walsingham Manor reported that she was ‘taken in spirit’ to Nazareth, shown the house where the Annunciation took place and asked by Our Lady to build a replica in Norfolk. She was promised that ‘Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.'
Her simple wooden house soon became the focus of special devotions. In 1153, the Augustinian Canons founded a Priory there to care for the spiritual needs of the many pilgrims who flocked there. Their magnificent Priory Church was added in the fifteenth century.
In 1509, a devout 18 year old Henry VIII made the famous pilgrimage to Walsingham. In fact, it was His Majesty’s purported attachment to the Shrine which led the monks to hope that the Priory would be spared his wrath during the wholesale destruction of religious houses which followed his break with Rome.
To no avail. The Prior’s pleas went unheard. The Sub-Prior, Nicholas Mileham, was charged with conspiring to rebel and, on flimsy evidence, convicted of high treason and hanged outside the Priory walls. Eleven people in all, including two lay choristers were hanged, drawn and quartered. Henry’s henchmen stole everything they could, and the beautiful old place lay in ruins for centuries afterwards.
Exactly five hundred years after young Henry’s pilgrimage, enter the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales (LMS). 2009 was the year the LMS re-started the medieval Pilgrimage again. Inspired by the modern-day pilgrimages of Chartres in France and Christus Rex in Australia, and the medieval pilgrims who walked from all over England, the new pilgrimage was at first, a modest affair of a few pilgrims.
In 2016, 75 pilgrims of all ages converged on medieval Ely Cathedral on August 25th, and then proceeded to walk the 55 miles over three days. Each day they heard a sung Traditional Latin Mass, Confessions, recitation of the Rosary, the singing of traditional hymns, periods of silence and quiet reflection, and the chance to chat and relax with other pilgrims.
REGINA Magazine caught up with Jack Kilday, 21, to get his impressions of his first time on the walk to Walsingham.
REGINA: Tell us about yourself.
Jack Kilday (in sunglasses, carrying Our Lady on his shoulders, above): I am 21 and I currently live just outside Newcastle upon Tyne in England and work at a local special educational needs college.
REGINA: Did you know the story of Walsingham before this?
Jack Kilday: Yes I had heard of it and knew it had something to do with an Apparition of Our Lady and the request to build the Holy House but didn't know all the ins and outs.
REGINA: How did you discover the Walsingham Pilgrimage?
Jack Kilday: I wished to make a pilgrimage but there was no local ones, but after joining the Latin Mass Society I saw a video of their pilgrimage and decided to take the opportunity.
REGINA: Did the experience live up to your ideas?
Jack Kilday: It went above and beyond my expectations. The experience was indescribable.
Jack Kilday: It was a great opportunity to make reparation for my sins and to pray for the conversion of England as well as friends and family.
Jack Kilday: I also had the grace to serve at the Holy Sacrifice while on pilgrimage at our daily Solemn Mass.
Jack Kilday: I was also able to receive a first blessing from Fr. James Mawdsley FSSP who was ordained in July.
Jack Kilday: I went by myself. Although that was part of the experience for me personally.
Jack Kilday: The camaraderie was great. We all got to know each other very well by the end of it all since we were spending 12 or more hours a day walking together.
Jack Kilday: The most surprising aspect of the Pilgrimage for me was the amount of families and young people (some as young as 10 and 11!!) on the pilgrimage.
Jack Kilday: I was surprised as well by the large number of people on the pilgrimage.
Jack Kilday: We also had a few pilgrims travel from other countries to make the pilgrimage – including one Priest from Australia.
REGINA: What was your best memory?
Jack Kilday: Probably when we arrived at the Slipper Chapel on the last day which marks the start of the Holy Mile. This is where pilgrims remove their shoes and walk barefoot on the last mile that leads up to where the Holy House and Priory stood before unfortunately being destroyed after Henry VIII founded Anglicanism.
REGINA: What advice would you give to those contemplating doing this?
Jack Kilday: If you haven't attended the Extraordinary Form, I'd recommend doing so.
Jack Kilday: Finally, pray, practice and have fun. It is a long walk so it is worth getting some practice in.