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Medieval pilgrimage route reopens

16 September 2022


Ruins of the Augustinian Priory in the Abbey Grounds at Walsingham

Ruins of the Augustinian Priory in the Abbey Grounds at Walsingham

ONE of Christianity’s most important medieval pilgrimage routes has been recreated, almost 500 years after it was shut down by Henry VIII.

The 150-mile trail from London to the shrine of Our Lady, in Walsingham, Norfolk, was once the most popular pilgrimage in England, and was eclipsed only by three other journeys: to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain.

Founded in 1061 after the noblewoman Richeldis de Faverches experienced visions of the Virgin Mary, it was suppressed in 1538, when the Reformation outlawed pilgrimage and the veneration of saints.

Now, the walker and author Andy Bull has researched the original route and devised a trail in 13 stages, following footpaths and quiet lanes across eastern England. It has been recognised by the Confraternity of St James, which helps British pilgrims who are walking the internationally-renowned Camino de Santiago.

In his guide to the route, The London to Walsingham Camino, Mr Bull writes: “When I first thought of walking to Walsingham from London I was surprised to find that no waymarked, long-distance footpath existed that would enable me to do so. While I could easily trace the Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury, I had to refer largely to historical accounts to uncover the path to Walsingham, then apply the ancient way to modern maps.”

He described it as a “truly pleasurable and uplifting” journey. “As I explored the route, I experienced a revelation. I discovered the fundamental difference between simply walking, and walking as a pilgrim. It was as profound as the gulf between speech and song. To travel as a pilgrim made walking a celebration. On my journey I encountered a lost heritage, and experienced an older England: a lost land of saints, faith and observance; of wayside crosses, shrines and chapels.”

The shrine was revived in 1938 by Walsingham’s vicar, the Revd Alfred Hope Patten, and today attracts 300,000 pilgrims annually, but few walk much more than the final Holy Mile. Among those who have is the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell. In a foreword to the guide he tells how, as a young curate, it was “the beginning of something important” for him. “I discovered the joy and challenge of pilgrimage as it is meant to be, not just arriving, but travelling well.”

The London to Walsingham Camino is published by Trailblazer Guides at £17.99 (CT Bookshop £16.19); 978-1-91271-631-9.

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