Our Lady of Walsingham Hymn!

EWTN televised Mass today from the Catholic cathedral at Walsingham, England’s great Marian pilgrimage site. There in 1061, a local noblewoman widow, Richeldis de Saverches, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary instructing her to build the Holy House, a replica of Mary’s childhood home with her parents.

(Yes, right before the Norman Invasion. It’s pretty common for Marian apparitions to occur during or right before wars and other bad stuff, perhaps as a sort of spiritual vitamin.)

This homely site was destroyed by the greed of Henry VIII. But the English still make pilgrimage there, and today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Anglican shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is on approximately the site of the old shrine. The Catholic one is at the site of the old “Slipper Chapel” on the outskirts of town, where pilgrims would remove their traveling shoes, so as to approach Mary’s shrine barefoot.

The opening hymn was very striking. It’s sung to the good old hymn tune ELLACOMBE.

Hail Mary, ever blessed,
Of Walsingham the Queen!
Through vision of Richeldis,
Thy favors there were seen.
When England was thy dowry,
There pilgrims bowed the knee.
At morn and noon and even,
They knelt to honor thee.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy children still delight
To tell abroad thy praises,
Thy miracles, thy might.
Still pilgrim feet are treading
Along the holy way.
Hostess of England’s Nazareth,
Receive us home today!

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
The wells of water pure
Which mark thy holy places
Are signs that God doth cure
For sick of soul and body.
E’er since Richeldis’ day,
They spring in benediction
Beside the Pilgrims’ Way.

Hail Mary, ever blessed.
Thy name is great indeed;
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was in thy womb conceived.
Thy name be ever prai-sed,
Increasing in this place,
And loud the angel’s greeting:
“Hail Mary, full of grace!”

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3 Comments

Filed under Church, Saint Stories

3 responses to “Our Lady of Walsingham Hymn!

  1. Fantastic, thanks for finding and sharing. This is the first hymn I’ve seen that references a non-saint in such a way as to indicate the era/year/period (e.g., “E’er since Richeldis’ day” and in the first verse). Do you know if this sort of reference is common (especially for a given historical period) or if Walsingham is so important that the widow would have been revered as a local saint, or some combination thereof?

  2. Medievals weren’t quite as… impressed… by visionaries as we are. And with reason. Honestly, true religious visions and other such experiences are fairly common. They were focused more on “Mary told everybody to build a church” or “Everybody saw Mary out on the hillside, so they thought they ought to build the new parish church there.” Bubba and his wife Aeda didn’t have to be particularly religious people to get a vision; scoundrels were very likely to get “scared straight” by visions, in fact. Either way, what made a vision impressive was getting an impressive result because of seeing a vision.

    Now, if somebody was seeing visions all the time, or was a noted prophet, that was a bit different. But it wasn’t so much that St. Joan of Arc saw saints and angels as that she produced the prophesied results, had a lot of holiness about her, and withstood martyrdom. (And come to think of it, St. Joan didn’t get much push on her cause and wasn’t beatified until the twentieth century, although people in some French regions always thought of her as a saint.)

    So yeah, I don’t think there was any real push to make Richeldis a saint. I don’t think her remains were associated with any miracles or pilgrimage. She just took down the message and fulfilled it.

    That said, there’s nothing particularly unlikely about somebody starting up a cause of sainthood, if people all of a sudden started feeling that Richeldis is a saint. A bit difficult, since the records are scanty, but not impossible.

    There is a statue of her at Walsingham in the Catholic church, and I gather people do ask for her to pray for them. But it’s on the level of asking any dead Catholic (who might reasonably be hoped to be in Purgatory/Heaven) for prayers.

    • So then the lines in the hymn are more about giving the widow credit for following through, and fixing the time period than advancing a cause for sainthood? Seems to make sense, and gets back to reserving canonization for the true exemplars of the faith.

      Thank you, truly fascinating.

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