28 June 2021

Her Immaculate Majesty: The Other Queen of England

What do you know of Our Lady of Walsingham? If you're not an English Catholic, probably not much. Here's an explanation.

From The Imaginative Conservative

By Joseph Pearce

Few people in today’s godless England have heard of Our Lady of Walsingham. But there was a time that she was known and revered throughout the whole of Christendom, to such a degree that she could be said to have put England on the map, at least in spiritual terms.

During the Middle Ages, the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was one of the major pilgrimage sites in the world, ranking alongside Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela. It was the principal shrine to the Blessed Virgin, the place above all others that Christians flocked to pay homage to the Mother of God. And they flocked in such numbers that the Walsingham Way was also known as the Milky Way, suggesting poetically that the number of pilgrims rivaled the number of stars in the sky. A succession of English monarchs made pilgrimages there and pilgrims arrived from all over Europe. An anonymous poem, entitled “As Ye Came from the Holy Land”, sometimes attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh, refers not to Jerusalem but to “the holy land of Walsingham”.

The reason for Walsingham’s importance is its association with the Marian apparitions to a pious English noblewoman in 1061, at a glorious time in English history when the country was ruled by a saint, Edward the Confessor. The news of the apparitions spread and Walsingham’s reputation grew, as did the devotion of the English people to the Blessed Virgin. By the middle of the fourteenth century, and probably from much earlier, people considered England to be “Our Lady’s dowry” and that she was, in some special sense, the protectress of the English people.

In 1350 a mendicant preacher stated that “it is commonly said that the land of England is the Virgin’s dowry”. An altarpiece from the late fourteenth century, depicts King Richard II offering the Virgin an orb, on which a miniature map of England is depicted, with the inscription Dos tua Virgo pia haec est, “This is thy dowry, O Holy Virgin”. The Wilton Diptych, one of the masterpieces of late mediaeval art, dating from around 1395, depicts Richard II kneeling before the Madonna and Child and flanked by two canonized English kings, St. Edmund the Martyr and the aforementioned Edward the Confessor, the latter of whom had been generally accepted as the patron saint of England until the crusaders returned from the Holy Land, bringing the cult of St. George with them. As for St. George himself, he is represented in the Diptych by the flag emblazoned with the cross of St. George, the flag of England, held aloft by an angel.

At the end of the fourteenth century, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, wrote of the Blessed Virgin that”we English, being … her own Dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions”. In the early fifteenth century, the title dos Mariae (Mary’s dowry) was being applied to England in Latin texts and, on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, English priests prayed for the intercession of “the Virgin, protrectress of her dower”.

All was well until the monster, Henry VIII, destroyed the shrine in 1538, publicly burning the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham that so many generations had come to venerate. The distress that this caused the people of England was expressed in an anonymous poem, “The Ballad of Walsingham”, which depicts the ruins of the shrine several decades after its destruction:

Bitter, bitter oh 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 wrackes as now do show
Of that so holy land.

Level, level with the ground
The Towers do lie
Which with their golden, glitt’ring tops
Pierced out to the sky.

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

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 dispites.

Sin is where our Lady sat,
Heaven turned to hell;
Satan sits where our Lord did sway,
Walsingham, oh, farewell!

This plaintive cry was taken up by a later English saint, John Henry Newman, in his poem about England’s “Pilgrim Queen”:

“Here I sit desolate,”
sweetly said she,
“Though I’m a queen,
and my name is Marie:
Robbers have rifled
my garden and store,
Foes they have stolen
my heir from my bower.

The Pilgrim Queen goes on to speak of how the Protestants said they could keep her Son “far better than I”, placing him in a Puritan “palace of ice, hard and cold as were they”. After this Protestant palace had “all melted away”, the people of England, her people, had bartered her Son for “the spice of the desert” and the “gold of the stream”, choosing mercantile materialism over the pearl of great price:

And me they bid wander
in weeds and alone,
In this green merry land
which once was my own.

This sad and sorry scenario would appear to be the unhappy ending for England, this most distressful country which has sent her true Queen into exile. And yet there are signs of life after death, something which should not surprise those who worship a God who found his way out of the grave, to borrow a phrase of Chesterton’s. Over the past two years, the replica of the mediaeval statue of Our Lady of Walsingham has been touring England, visiting every one of England’s Catholic cathedrals. The Pilgrim Queen, long in exile, has returned!

Known as the Dowry Tour, in recognition of England’s traditional title, the Pilgrim Queen’s royal visit to all four corners of her realm is culminating on March 29 with the formal rededication of England to Mary. This will be done simultaneously at Westminster Cathedral in London, at the resurrected shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, at all the other cathedrals of England, and in many parishes and homes.

Such news will bring joy to the hearts of all true sons and daughters of Albion and will be the answer to the prayers of St. John Henry Newman, England’s most recently canonized saint, who prophesied in the final lines of his poem the Return of the Queen:

I look’d on that Lady,
and out from her eyes
Came the deep glowing blue
of Italy’s skies;
And she raised up her head
and she smiled, as a Queen
On the day of her crowning,
so bland and serene.

“A moment,” she said,
“and the dead shall revive;
The giants are failing,
the Saints are alive;
I am coming to rescue
my home and my reign,
And Peter and Philip
are close in my train.”

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