One of the great shrines in Christendom, Our Lady of Walsingham is located about one hundred miles northeast of London in Little Walsingham. It has been known for centuries in Europe and its fame has spread to the United States, particularly among Anglican Catholics.
The original shrine was established in the eleventh century. In 1061 Richeldis de Faverches, Lady of the Manor of Walsingham, was praying when she received a vision from the Virgin Mary. This was followed by a twice repeated vision of the house of Joseph, Mary, and the boy Jesus at Nazareth, during which Richeldis was commanded to build, on her own land, a replica of the Holy House for the use of Crusaders as a focus of devotion. Richeldis gave instructions for construction to begin but according to legend, the following night she was awakened by the sound of singing. When she went to investigate, she saw angels departing, and the Holy House miraculously finished. Soon, pilgrims began coming in increasing numbers and the village became known as England's Nazareth.
By 1130, Franciscan friars and Augustinian Canons had established houses there which catered to the needs of the many pilgrims, both commoners and royalty. In 1226 the shrine received the royal patronage of Henry III.
The road to Walsingham became dotted with chapels and houses of refreshment. The last of the chapels was erected in the fourteenth century and was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of all Holy Land pilgrims. It became known as the Slipper Chapel. Today it is the site of the Roman Catholic shrine honoring Our Lady of Walsingham.
When the Protestant Reformation swept across northern Europe in the sixteenth and iconoclasm became rampant, the shrine in Walsingham was destroyed (1538). The statue of the Virgin Mary was transported to London where is was burned, and the Slipper Chapel became first a poor house, then a forge, and finally a cowshed and barn. In the middle of the nineteenth century there was a revival in the Church of England known as the Oxford Movement, and many of the old forms of religious devotion once again found a place in Anglican worship. In 1887 a new church was built in the Sussex village of Buxted and a Lady Chapel, an exact replica of Lady Richeldis' Holy House, was built.
Alfred Hope Patten, a local boy, regularly visited the new shrine to pray. He believed that it was God's wish that he restore a shrine to Mary's honor. He was eventually ordained a Priest and in 1921 came to Walsingham where he remained vicar until his death in 1958.
The Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham as we know it today is the result of Fr. Patten's vision and dedication. He began by having a statue carved in 1922. From the first night the statue was installed, people gathered there to pray, and this chain of devotion has been unbroken ever since.. Visitors increased during the 1920s. In 1931, Fr. Patten acquired land a short distance from the original medieval site. After 400 years, England's Little Nazareth was restored; Richeldis' Holy House was rebuilt. In 1938, he built the present pilgrimage church which provides a covering for the replica of the Holy House.