After our long journey neared it's end on a narrow country lane, we wondered if we had journeyed to the middle of nowhere, when suddenly we came upon the entrance to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Entering a courtyard we were at once in the presence of peace and sanctuary. A simple pool with a gentle fountain providing calm. The garden, with meandering pathways bordered by beds of flowers planted in natural drifts. In September the planting scheme was mainly of blue and white with pale fragrant roses and lavender.
The Shrine is perfectly conceived, with just sufficient pieces of devotional artwork and statues to concentrate the mind on spiritual renewal.
The many different services held in the shrine are not easy to describe.
During the first evening at vespers a significant event took place. An Ecumenical Covenant was signed by both Anglican and Roman Catholic priests; the result of many years of prayer to forward church unity.
From this document I quote, 'Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ stands before us as an exemplar of faithful obedience, and her, "be it to me according to your word" is the grace-filled response each of us is called to make to God, both personally and communally, as the Church, the body of Christ.'
Within the shrine is the Holy House of Nazareth where we were privileged to hold two intimate and moving masses for our private pilgrim group from St Stephen's, beautifully conducted by Fr Andrew.
The Benediction of the Sacrament was especially moving and meaningful.
The Sprinkling at the Well is part of a service of healing dating from the 11th century. We descended steps to the well within the shrine where the priests administered a sip of water to us before making the sign of the cross on our forehead and pouring water on our outstretched palms; symbolic of our thirst for God in our distracting and troubled lives. "As pants the hart for cooling streams when heated in the chase."
There was then a laying on of hands and anointing with oil on our head and palms for healing for ourselves or others not able to be present.
The stations of the cross around the garden were part of another moving service in wonderful autumnal sunlight.
On the final evening we took part in a candlelit vigil around the grounds led by our own Neil and Terry carrying an illuminated statue of Our Lady of Walsingham while we sang. This was the moment I realised that I had to return again to engage in something quite wonderful.
The time spent on pilgrimage is a time of spiritual growth, reaffirmation of faith and dedication to Christ.
Fresh insights and perspectives are so valuable and essential to keep us travelling on our path in a world that often distracts us from the truth.
We will be returning to this precious sanctuary next year on 23rd September and urge you to seriously think of taking this unique and priceless opportunity to take some time out for yourself and God.
Grateful thanks to Fr Andrew, Ian and all those who made the experience so special.