Walsingham and Lourdes

Diocesan Pilgrimage to Walsingham

8th June 2024

A pilgrimage to Walsingham is a significant spiritual journey undertaken by devout Catholics to the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, England. Walsingham is renowned as one of the most important Marian pilgrimage sites in the United Kingdom, with a history dating back to the 11th century. The pilgrimage to Walsingham is a way for Catholics to express their devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek her intercession.

Here is a description of a typical Catholic pilgrimage to Walsingham:

  • Preparation: Pilgrims often prepare themselves spiritually and mentally for the journey to Walsingham. This may involve attending confession, reflecting on their intentions for the pilgrimage, and making offerings or prayers dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
  • The Journey: Pilgrims may travel individually or in groups, often walking the last few miles to Walsingham as a form of penance and reflection. Some pilgrims come from nearby areas, while others travel from different parts of the country or even from abroad.
  • Arrival in Walsingham: Upon reaching Walsingham, pilgrims are greeted by the serene and picturesque village that has been a center of Catholic devotion for centuries. Many begin their visit at the Slipper Chapel, which is considered the holiest site in Walsingham and where pilgrims would traditionally remove their shoes before proceeding, hence the name “Slipper Chapel.”
  • Visiting the Shrines: Pilgrims visit the various Marian shrines and holy sites in Walsingham, including the Holy House, which is a replica of the house in Nazareth where the Annunciation took place. They may also visit the Abbey Grounds, the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and the Roman Catholic Shrine.
  • Prayer and Reflection: Throughout the pilgrimage, prayer is central. Pilgrims pray the Rosary, offer petitions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and attend Mass in one of the pilgrimage chapels. The peaceful and spiritual atmosphere of Walsingham encourages introspection and devotion.
  • Acts of Penance: Pilgrims may engage in acts of penance, such as fasting, walking barefoot, or carrying a symbolic cross, as a way to purify themselves spiritually and draw closer to God.
  • Community and Fellowship: The pilgrimage to Walsingham often fosters a sense of community and fellowship among the participants. Pilgrims share their faith, experiences, and stories with one another, forging strong bonds of spiritual solidarity.
  • Departure: After spending time in prayer, reflection, and communion with fellow pilgrims, participants eventually conclude their pilgrimage, often departing with a profound sense of spiritual renewal and a deeper connection to their faith.

A pilgrimage to Walsingham is a deeply meaningful and personal journey, allowing participants to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek her intercession while also connecting with a rich tradition of devotion that spans centuries. It is a testament to the enduring faith and spiritual heritage of Catholicism in England.


Our diocesan pilgrimage to Walsingham begins with Mass at the Catholic Shrine at midday, pilgrims are encouraged to arrive in plenty of time. After Mass there is free time for lunch , visiting the slipper chapel, private prayer and a visit to the bookshop. At 3pm we gather to begin a walk of the Holy Mile to the Abbey Grounds where our pilgirmage ends with a service led by the Bishop of Northampton.

The Abbey

The history of the Abbey in Walsingham is closely tied to the origins of Walsingham as a significant pilgrimage site dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The story of the Abbey begins in the early 12th century and includes several key events:

  1. Foundation of the Priory: The history of religious devotion in Walsingham can be traced back to the 11th century when a devout noblewoman named Richeldis de Faverches claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary. According to tradition, in 1061, the Virgin Mary appeared to Richeldis and instructed her to build a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth in Walsingham. A small wooden shrine, known as the Holy House, was constructed based on her vision. This shrine became the focus of Marian devotion and pilgrimage.
  2. Priory Established: In 1153, a priory of Augustinian canons was established at Walsingham to oversee the shrine and accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims. This priory, known as the Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham, played a central role in maintaining the shrine and facilitating the pilgrimage experience for visitors.
  3. Growth of Pilgrimage: Over the centuries, Walsingham became one of the most renowned pilgrimage sites in medieval England. Pilgrims from all over Europe would visit to seek the intercession of the Virgin Mary, particularly in times of illness or hardship.
  4. Suppression and Dissolution: The dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century had a significant impact on Walsingham. The priory was dissolved in 1538, and its buildings were largely destroyed. The Holy House was dismantled, and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken to London and burned.
  5. Restoration: Walsingham’s significance as a pilgrimage site lay dormant for many years, but interest in the site was revived in the 19th and 20th centuries. Efforts to restore the pilgrimage tradition led to the establishment of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the late 19th century. In 1931, a Catholic shrine was also established, known as the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, with the blessing of the Catholic Church.
  6. Modern Shrines: Today, both the Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines exist side by side in Walsingham, each with its own traditions and pilgrimage activities. The Anglican Shrine is located at the original site of the priory, while the Roman Catholic Shrine is located nearby. Pilgrims visit these shrines to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek her intercession.

The history of the Abbey in Walsingham is a tale of devotion, suppression, and revival, with Walsingham continuing to serve as a significant center of Marian pilgrimage and devotion in both the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions to this day.

Lourdes Pilgrimage 2023

On the morning of 22nd August, pilgrims from across the diocese gathered in the Crypt of the Immaculate Conception Basilica in Lourdes to pray for our diocese.  Mass was celebrated by Fr James Cassidy CRIC and Canon Derek Turnham.  A number of the group are pictured below, others were unable to attend as they were assisting in the care of fellow pilgrims resident in the Accueil Notre Dame or in one of the many hotels in the town.

The Pilgrims were in Lourdes on the Catholic Association Pilgrimage.  For some it was their first time in Lourdes, others have travelled with Northampton Diocese on the pilgrimage for decades, remembering travel by train and ship or hours on a coach.  Fortunately stories about travel by horse and cart are no longer regaled……though bicycle had a brief revival in the early 2000s!

The Catholic Association (CA) arranged its first pilgrimage to Rome, in 1898, with the first pilgrimage to Lourdes being in 1901.  Today, the Catholic Association’s sole activity is arranging an annual, medically supported, Lourdes Pilgrimage.  Whilst many pilgrims travel to Lourdes each year, only a few organisations are able to co-ordinate the doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, paramedics, pharmacists and large numbers of willing non-medical volunteers required to enable people with existing health conditions to travel and stay at the world’s most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site.

Most travel arrangements are provided through a tour operator, enabling people to travel alone or in groups, mainly by plane.  A number of the Northampton Diocese pilgrims made their own way to Lourdes either driving, travelling with low cost airlines or on the train; none cycled this year!  A family with younger children joined the pilgrimage having had a holiday in the south of France but, however the journey was made, they came together for the week to support those who could not have travelled independently and met, that morning, to celebrate the Eucharist and pray for all in Northampton Diocese.

Next year, the pilgrimage is from Friday 23rd August to Friday 30th August.  If you might be interested in joining as a volunteer (medical/non-medical/liturgical) you could visit www.catholicassociation.co.uk for information.  There are many different roles for people of all ages.  There is a children’s group to take care of the children of volunteers whilst they carry out their roles. 

You may be beyond your volunteering days or just prefer to attend for spiritual re-fuelling; you would be more than welcome.  There is a very full liturgical programme that complements the programme run by the Shrine. 

Those who require medical support, either to stay in a hotel or the Acceuil, should visit the CA website: www.catholicassociation.co.uk/assisted-pilgrims

With us there is always a group of families with children who have additional needs or requiring medical support. The group is named after a Northampton Diocese priest. For more information visit www.glanfield.org

Whilst engaged in small talk, pilgrims often ask “have you been to Lourdes before?”.  However, the question we should ask, probably the one Our Lady would ask, is not how many times you have been before but “Are you coming next year?”


“I am the Immaculate Conception”

Catholics visit Lourdes for religious and spiritual reasons, primarily because it is considered a significant pilgrimage site within the Catholic faith. Lourdes is a town in southwestern France that became famous in the 19th century due to reported Marian apparitions.

Here are some of the main reasons why Catholics visit Lourdes:

  • Marian Apparitions: In 1858, a young peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous reported having multiple visions of the Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes. These apparitions, which included messages and instructions from Mary, played a crucial role in the town’s religious significance. The grotto has since become a focal point for pilgrims who come to Lourdes to seek a connection with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • Healing and Miracles: Lourdes is renowned for its association with miraculous healings and cures. Many Catholics believe that the water from the spring at the Grotto of Massabielle, known as the “Lourdes water,” has healing properties. Pilgrims often immerse themselves in this water or drink it with the hope of experiencing physical or spiritual healing.
  • Prayer and Reflection: Pilgrims visit Lourdes to deepen their faith, seek spiritual renewal, and spend time in prayer and reflection. The peaceful and spiritual atmosphere of Lourdes, combined with its connection to the Virgin Mary, makes it a place conducive to contemplation and spiritual growth.
  • Participating in the Sacraments: Lourdes offers various opportunities for Catholics to participate in the sacraments of the Church, including Mass, confession, and the anointing of the sick. Many pilgrims seek these sacraments as part of their spiritual journey.
  • Witnessing Processions and Masses: Lourdes hosts various religious processions and Masses throughout the year, especially during key Marian feast days. Pilgrims often participate in these events, which are conducted in a grand and solemn manner.
  • Pilgrimage Experience: The act of making a pilgrimage to Lourdes itself is seen as an act of devotion and penance. Pilgrims may travel great distances to reach Lourdes, often on foot or with other physical sacrifices, as a way of expressing their faith and dedication.
  • Community and Fellowship: Lourdes attracts people from all over the world, creating a sense of global Catholic community. Pilgrims often find fellowship with others who share their faith and beliefs, fostering a sense of unity and belonging.

In summary, Catholics visit Lourdes to connect with their faith, seek healing and spiritual renewal, and pay homage to the Virgin Mary based on the reported apparitions. It is a place of deep religious significance and pilgrimage for Catholics around the world.