Today (Monday 18 July) people from Holyhead to Llandudno and Aberdaron to Bangor are travelling east to Walsingham in north Norfolk – and the Shrine there – on the Diocese of Bangor’s annual pilgrimage.
It is said that in 1061 the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, appeared to a local woman in Walsingham and this lead to the building of the first Shrine in honour of Mary.
From then until the 16th Century Reformation Walsingham became an important place of pilgrimage. After the Reformation the Shrine was destroyed, but interest was rekindled at the end of the 19th Century. In 1931 an Anglican Shrine Church was built to go alongside the existing Roman Catholic, which is still in the village of Walsingham to this day.
The group from the Diocese of Bangor will be staying in a local hostel, and once there, they will mix services, prayer and times of quiet reflection with some relaxation.
Looking forward to being part of the pilgrimage, the Bishop of Bangor, the Right Reverend Andy John, said: ‘Pilgrimage is an ancient, yet life-giving tradition for Christian people. Our lives in God always need the nourishment which comes from the skills of discipline, prayer and fellowship.
“Going to a special place like Walsingham provides a focus for our devotions, and contributes to our development throughout our Christian lives.’
Another pilgrim will be Elwyn Owen from St. Cybi’s Church in Holyhead. Looking forward to the pilgrimage, he said: ‘At Walsingham, I am always reminded that seeing Jesus through the eyes of Mary, who was both his mother and disciple, is one of the most fruitful ways in which to pray. For the many pilgrims at Walsingham, Mary represents the essence of loving faith and the simplicity of her Amen – her response to God when he chose her to carry his Son.
“After a few days of tranquillity, reflection, prayer with new and old friends, I always return home from the Shrine, refreshed and renewed.’
The Rev’d Jane Bailey is a priest in the the Bro Cybi Ministry Area (Holyhead) who has been to Walsingham on retreat several times before. The Shrine does not allow women priests to lead some services, such as the Eucharist or Communion.
She said, ‘I confess that there are times when I find the reservation of priesthood to men at the Shrine Church in Walsingham difficult, especially as I have served solely in the Diocese of Bangor, where women clerics can be assured in their ministry. Yet, it is recognised and welcomed at Walsingham that many pilgrims welcome the ordination of women as priests and bishops. The Shrine is, therefore, one of the few places, where lay-people and clergy from the so called ‘two integrities’ meet on common ground together on a regular basis. This is a precious thing which demands courtesy to each other. The spiritual gifts of Walsingham are great, as people of all ages celebrate and pray together.’
The pilgrims will be returning to North Wales at the end of the week, and plans are already being made for next year’s pilgrimage.