Walsingham is a village in Norfolk where there are shrines to the Virgin Mary following a series of visions experienced by an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman in 1061. It was a major place of pilgrimage in the middle ages until its destruction during the time of the Reformation, at the beginning of the 20th century the shrine was revived and it is once again a popular place to visit, primarily but not exclusively, for Christians.
The village of Walsingham was quiet with an air peace and tranquil serenity about it as I walked down to the Anglican shrine of the Virgin Mary, shrugging off the effects of the last few hours behind the wheel. It was quiet enough to hear the birds singing, warm enough to enjoy that late summer breeze blowing across my face and safe enough for me not to worry about any cars or lorries suddenly racing down the main street and swishing past me at a distance too close for comfort. Once inside the grounds of the Anglican complex I made my way to the chapel in which the shrine was located and at the third time of asking found the correct door to open in order to go inside. Don’t quite know what happened there, the first two doors which to me seemed the obvious ones to try were locked, it was only when seeing people emerge from the third that I worked out that must be the one. Despite the fact I had not drunk or eaten anything since leaving my house Woodford, I did not feel particularly hungry or thirsty, as a matter of fact I felt pretty good, energised and keen to sit in front of the shrine to do my meditation.
The shrine was located in a room at the back of the chapel I entered and there were rows of lighted candles in front of the room, which for some reason threw me off track a bit, not quite knowing what to do. Nevertheless after sticking 30p in the box I picked up one of the candles and lit it from a candle already burning, then as I put it in its holder I mumbled something to myself along the lines of “For all the people I know” which I in actual fact I was pretty pleased with, thinking it covered all the bases as far as some form of prayer and wish for others was concerned. Inside the shrine were a few chairs at the back on which to sit and to look at the wall opposite where there was a figure of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus who was looking back at her, helpless yet like the son of God. Rays of divine light were emanating in all directions from behind the top of Mary’s head, all the more effective when set against the dark background of the wall behind the statue. The intensity of the image was further enhanced by the deep, dark wood panels running along each side of the room, on which were shelves filled with many offerings left in remembrance of people either living or dead, offerings in the form of tokens, candles, night lights, prayers, simple notes. All of which made an impression on me as I took it all in.
I sat down to bring my mind into focus, to do a session of breathing meditation which I anticipated would take me around 25 minutes to complete, as this was what I had told myself I would do when I got there. A man and woman occupied two of the other chairs and as I began to settle down, bring the rhythm of my breath into focus, the man coughed a few times in a strange manner, like it was a bent out of shape cough, not quite right, and it dawned on me that it was possible the reason why he was there was to find some healing, some relief from whatever it was that caused him to cough like that. Within a few minutes or so the couple got up and left the room which was good news for me as it minimized distractions, left me on my own, which was pretty much how it remained until I had finished my session. It allowed me to get down to business, concentrate on my breathing with all the associations and sensations with went with the pulling of the in breath, the pushing of the out breath along with the before, middle and after, those period in which the rhythm was stilled. At a certain point I sensed a couple of figures hovering around on the outer edges of the shrine and got the distinct impression they were a pair of large women from Eastern Europe, possibly even Russia, that they were wore black dresses and talked in whispers. Distinctly odd feeling, whatever it was.
Meditation in front of that shrine was easy, quite blissful, something for which I felt blessed and grateful, without quite knowing why, other than the fact that concentration was clear and focused. Might have simply been the fact that the meditation was done in a location which for centuries had built up an accumulation of human prayers, wishes and various other pacts with the invisible on the part of pilgrims, all probably in fervent hope of a good outcome. Many centuries worth of people wanting the best to happen for themselves, their loved ones, the whole world possibly, all based on an Anglo Saxon noble lady’s fountain of visions from a long time ago, five years before William the Conqueror. Once I had finished what I had planned to do I got up and left the shrine room, walked back into the chapel where a nun was now mopping the floors and went out into the gardens where there was now a stunningly beautiful day in that hidden away part of North Norfolk.
Since I was feeling more than a little peckish I made my way through the gardens to the cafe where I had a cheese salad sandwich, a pot of tea and a slice of Norfolk currant cake which I don’t remember the name of. It all came in at just under 10 quid which I didn’t think was particularly cheap but whilst the sandwich was indifferent, too many onions in the salad for a start, the tea was refreshing and the cake fantastic. Sat at a table on my own, happy for the solitude, able to tap away into my mobile in between wolfing down the food. Sitting in the gardens after eating in the cafe I soaked up the rays of the sun whilst looking over a mound of green in the distance upon which had been placed three crosses stuck out at odd angles. I gazed at them for a while, mind blank. There were other people in the gardens, either sitting on their own or in quiet conversation, no doubt each with their own story, which on that particular day had taken them to Walsingham, in that regard pretty much the same as me. Some of them might be there for a while because the Anglicans who tended the shrine, performed all manner of services, prayers and rituals with enough accommodation in the complex for up to a couple of hundred people, so it was probably a popular place to hang around for a few days for those who were that way inclined.
Time had flown and I had my car park ticket to think about, as pilgrimage place or not, there were bound to be some eagle eyed parking wardens hovering, waiting to pounce the minute you went over your time. So, after a quick walk around the rest of the village in order to stretch my legs, I headed back to the car park where I sat in the front seat of my Prius for a few minutes to knock out a couple of texts on my mobile. Once they were done and dusted I was good to go, straight down the A1065 and ultimately the M11 which would then take me back to Woodford. It was an extremely pleasant experience driving along at around 60 miles an hour, windows open, a warm breeze blowing through the car and some awesome Norfolk countryside to feast my eyes upon. Once at the bottom of the A1065 I rolled up the windows for the motorway bit and stuck on Stadium Arcadium, Jupiter this time instead of Mars, which had been what was on the deck for the drive up.
A few nights after making this trip to Walsingham I woke up at around 4.30 am with the following words clearly in my mind’s eye, clear enough for me to get up, go downstairs bring up my writing pad and write them down.
wealth on Earth is health,
death eats into the heart’s years
The core of these words was an ea centrality. Bizarrely when I got to this ea the only words which appeared were extra-terrestrial and alien, followed by the conclusion that we are not of this planet, that we originate from somewhere else. A bit of a leap I know, peculiarly illogical, but there it is. The importance of the ancient lady’s visions, nearly 1000 years ago, lay not so much in their content but in the energy which empowered them. After all pretty much everyone back then in Anglo-Saxon England would have been seriously into Jesus and Mary, so it is not surprising that what she saw had Biblical associations. No, their power lay in the fact they opened a window to the wider universe, the great immensity which lies beyond Earth and within that immensity the place we originally came from. This window has the properties of being both invisible and magnetic, therefore, since that point in time way back in 1061, Walsingham has become a place human beings have journeyed to, without them necessarily knowing the real reasons for making the pilgrimage. On one level of course they are going there to receive the blessings of the Virgin Mary with all the potentially wonderful healing properties those blessings might carry, but on a deeper, hidden level they are going to Walsingham so as to be next to a window which is a gateway to home, something far more overwhelming, way beyond the hand of any human being, of God even.
The header image for this article is a photograph taken by Johannes Plenio as found on Pexels.