Walsingham Pilgrimage

Walsingham is a village (actually two conjoined villages: Little Walsingham and Great Walsingham) in the English county of Norfolk. The village is famed for its religious shrines in honour of the Virgin Mary and as a major pilgrimage centre. It also contains the ruins of two medieval monastic houses.

Walsingham became a major centre of pilgrimage in the eleventh century. In 1061, according to the Walsingham legend, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation. When it was built the Holy House in Walsingham was panelled with wood and contained a wooden statue of an enthroned Virgin Mary with the child Jesus seated on her lap. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin's milk.

Walsingham became one of Northern Europe's great places of pilgrimage and remained so through most of the Middle Ages.

A priory of Canons Regular was established here in 1153 and the Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham was confirmed to the Augustinian Canons a century later and enclosed within the priory. The shrine became a famous place of pilgrimage and the faithful came from all parts of England and the Continent until the destruction of the priory under King Henry VIII in 1538. The main road of the pilgrims through Newmarket, Brandon and Fakenham is still called the Palmers' (Pilgrims') Way.

Several English kings visited the shrine, including Henry III (1231 or 1241), Edward I (1289 and 1296), Edward II in 1315, Edward III in 1361, Henry VI in 1455, Henry VII in 1487 and finally Henry VIII, later to be responsible for its destruction. Erasmus made a pilgrimage from Cambridge in 1511 and several years later wrote of Walsingham in his colloquy on pilgrimages. Two of Henry VIII's wives — Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn — made pilgrimages to the shrine.

The Dissolution Of The Monasteries

In 1537 the Sub-Prior, Nicholas Milcham, was charged with conspiring to rebel against the suppression of the lesser monasteries. Convicted of high treason, he was hanged outside the Priory walls. The following year Prior Vowell assented to the destruction of Walsingham Priory and assisted the king's commissioners in the removal of the figure of Our Lady. For his ready compliance the Prior received a pension of 100 pounds a year. With the shrine dismantled and the priory destroyed, the site was sold and a private mansion erected on the spot.


In 1897 Pope Leo XIII blessed a new statue 'for the restored ancient sanctuary of Our Lady of Walsingham'. This was sent from Rome and placed in the Holy House Chapel at the newly built Roman Catholic parish church of King's Lynn and on 20 August the first post-Reformation pilgrimage took place to the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham, which was purchased by Charlotte Boyde in 1895 and restored for Catholic use. Hundreds of Catholics attended the pilgrimage and committed themselves to an annual pilgrimage (from 1897-1934 on Whitsun) to commemorate this event.

There are now two shrines – the Catholic Shrine and the Anglican Shrine.

The Catholic Shrine

The Slipper Chapel was declared a Catholic National Shrine on 19 August 1934 with over 10,000 pilgrims present. The Catholic shrine continues to be based at the Slipper Chapel, near the hamlet of Houghton St Giles. Many significant occasions have been celebrated here, including the Pilgrimage of Catholic Youth (1938), the Cross Carrying Pilgrimages (since 1948), and the Crowning of Our Lady (Marian year 1954 and 1988). On 22 May 1982 the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to Pope John Paul II at the Wembley Mass and given a place of honour during his British visit. In 2000 a new Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham was approved and is celebrated in England on 24 September.

The Anglican Shrine

It was the idea of Fr Hope Patten, appointed as Vicar of Walsingham in 1921, to base a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham on the image depicted on the seal of the medieval Priory. In 1922, this statue was set up in the Parish Church of St. Mary. From the first night that the statue was placed there, people gathered around it to pray. Pilgrims came in great numbers, for whom eventually a Pilgrim Hospice was opened and in 1931, a new Holy House encased in a small pilgrimage church was dedicated, and the statue translated there with great solemnity. In 1938 that church was enlarged to form the Anglican Shrine. As pilgrim numbers continued to grow, so did the needs of those who came. St Joseph’s House was opened for pilgrims with special needs and Richeldis House opened in 1991 to provide yet more accommodation. The Anglican National Pilgrimage takes place on the Spring Bank Holiday (the Monday following the last Sunday in May). The Student Cross pilgrimage on Good Friday visits both the Anglican and Catholic shrines and the National Youth Pilgrimage is in the first week of August, also visiting the Anglican shrine.


There is an interaction between the two shrines. In the Anglican shrine there is a small pan-Orthodox chapel and the Orthodox have a further presence at the former railway station which has been converted into the church of St Seraphim.

Getting There

Walsingham is approached by road from the West (King's Lynn), the South (Swaffham) or the East (Norwich) and is five miles from Fakenham. The Roman Catholic Shrine is 1.3 miles South of Walsingham, in a hamlet called Houghton St. Giles.

From the West:
From King's Lynn follow the A148 to Fakenham (approximately 17 miles). At the roundabout just before Fakenham turn left, then left again after 300 yards on to the B1105 which is signposted Walsingham.

From the East:
From Norwich follow the A1067 towards Fakenham. Turn right at the first roundabout, straight on at the next roundabout (Morrison's), and then left at the third roundabout onto by-pass (A148). After about one mile turn right onto B1105 to Walsingham.

From the South:
From London and the South leave the M11 at Junction 9 (Newmarket, Norwich). Take the A11 towards Newmarket, this then merges with the A14.  After 6 miles follow the sign A11 (Thetford, Norwich).  At Barton Mills roundabout take the A1065 (2nd exit) through Brandon and Swaffham. In Swaffham turn right at the mini roundabout through the Market Square signposted Cromer, Fakenham (A148).  By-pass Fakenham to the King's Lynn-Fakenham road (A148). Cross over the roundabout; turn left after 300 yards on to B1105, which is signposted Walsingham.

Once on the B1105, 
follow the signs for Little Walsingham - Light Vehicles only, which takes you through the villages of East Barsham and Houghton St Giles. After Houghton St Giles, you will come to a small bridge, just before entering the village. EITHER: Take the small turning to the left signposted RC Shrine and Slipper Chapel (avoid any saying "Unbridged ford" - these can be very deep!) to go to the CatholicShrine. OR:  Follow the road to the right to go into the village and Anglican Shrine.

Public Transport

A very helpful number to ring is the Norfolk Bus Information Centre on 0845 300 6116 or the Train Information hot line 08457 484950. The Norfolk County Council Passenger Transport Unit can be accessed online at http://www.passengertransport.norfolk.gov.uk/ 

By Train

There is an hourly rail service from London King's Cross to King's Lynn, calling at Cambridge (connections to/from Stansted Airport and Ipswich) and Ely (connections from Peterborough and Birmingham).  This takes 1 hour 35 minutes. A frequent bus service links King's Lynn with Fakenham and a less frequent service operates from Fakenham to Walsingham. Alternatively there an half-hourly (weekday) service from London Liverpool Street to Norwich (takes just over two hours) and a regular bus service from Norwich to Fakenham.

NB - Walsingham is linked to Wells (on the coast) via the longest 10¼" narrow gauge steam railway in the world.

By Coach
There is a daily National Express service from London, Victoria Coach Station to Cromer, which stops in Fakenham.

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