Thursday, 15 October 2015

Walsingham I

Walsingham is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Britain, and since my late teens the place has a held a deep attraction to me- a place of refreshment, a place of incredible serenity, that is also in quite my favourite part of the world: North Norfolk.  In the Middle Ages it outshone all other Marian shrines in England such as Ipswich, Willesden or Egmanton, vying with the great shrine of Thomas a Beckett at Canterbury in popularity.  Pilgrims traveled from across northern Europe to visit.  Suppressed at the Reformation, the shrine was revived between the Wars, on a different site, by the then spikily anglo-catholic parish priest, Fr Hope Patten.  The church commissioned by Hope Pattern from Milner & Craze, 1931-7, looks like it has dropped in from suburban London and has decided to stay.  At least it has a pantiled roof.
Regardless of the attractions of the shrine Walsingham is a beautiful, if somewhat faded, village - the affluence of the North Norfolk coast has yet to trickle south.  Village, however, is not quite an accurate description, for the High St, in particular, has a bit of an urban feel.  The Shell County Guide to Norfolk is happy to call it a small town.  There are old buildings and several lovely Victorian shop fronts, which once housed the butcher and the baker but are now crammed with any amount of saint-sulpicerie.  There are also the remains of the Priory, which sheltered the original shrine, and now part of the grounds of a small country house, and the friary - again part now of a house. The religious live dominates: retired clergy slowly wending their way home with the shopping and nuns cautious behind the wheel of an automobile as they navigate the narrow streets. Unfortunately 'The Martlet', which was a fantastic stationers and book-bindery, has closed earlier thuis year; however there are a couple of good antique shops and an excellent farm shop.  One thing to look out in the following photographs for are the black-glazed pantiles.  A speciality, I think, of East Anglia, if not Norfolk only.  I can't think of anywhere else.
And then, quite unexpectedly and quite deliciously on the very edge of the village, and formed out of the former railway station, is a Russian Orthodox church.
Anyway, on Saturday, with all my contradictions and stupidities, I went on pilgrimage.  The weather was perfect, and it was in its way quite a profound experience.  Here are some of the images I took.

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