On 27 July, around 150 intrepid, but slightly groggy-eyed, parishioners from the Hallam Diocese gathered at 07.30hrs at Sheffield Interchange for the yearly pilgrimage to Walsingham, writes St Marie’s Cathedral reader, Stephen Dugdale.  This particular Saturday was less than 48 hours after the UK sweltered in record-breaking temperatures (Sheffield recorded a modest 35.1C).  Mercifully, the elements were much more bearable that day.

The village of Little Walsingham

  In 1061, according to the Walsingham legend, Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation.

  As it was 20 years since my last pilgrimage (I was a regular visitor to Lourdes whilst undertaking a university placement in nearby Pau), I felt I was definitely in need of a day of prayer, plus reflection with friendly, like-minded individuals.  Bookings for the pilgrimage quickly filled up apparently and extra coaches were hired.  Unlike many lengthy trips which tend to properly start only when reaching the destination, our expert guide, Joseph Durham, got us into a lively mood early on with plenty of energetic singing, rosary and an Angelus.  This guaranteed that we were ready for Walsingham, and Walsingham was prepared for 149 parishioners from the White Rose county and myself from the dark side of the Pennines.

Gathering for the procession along the Holy Mile at the Church of the Annunciation in Walsingham

  Following a quick pit stop for refreshments in Lincolnshire and a few more songs, we reached our beautiful end point in North Norfolk around noon.  The day was then our own with the only proviso that the coach would leave promptly at 16.45.  Most of us decided to assemble in Friday Market for the daily procession along the Holy Mile to the shrine.  Several female parishioners helped carry the deceptively heavy statue of the Virgin Mary to the shrine.  With an initial hymn and one decade of the rosary, most of the convoy took place in silence to reflect upon the sacrifices made and to show reverence towards the Virgin Mary and our faith.  A handful of people completed the Holy Mile in bare feet.  A lengthier procession is carried out annually on 8 September to commemorate the Feast of the Birth of Our Lady.

  Once at the shrine, there was the opportunity to visit the Slipper Chapel which Pope Francis elevated to minor basilica status in 2015.  It also featured in 2007 episode of How We Built Britain, with David Dimbleby.  The Chapel of Reconciliation was another deeply prayerful venue.

The Catholic Shrine

  Bishop Ralph celebrated Mass with our group, but everybody was welcome.  Following the Mass, most of us used the time to fill up our bottles with holy water and buy any souvenirs (my weakness are fridge magnets).  We had one eye on the clock, not wanting to miss our coach departure.  However, let’s be honest, I cannot think of a more stunning place to be stranded.

  With all passengers safely aboard for the 133 mile return journey, friendships continued to be forged.  We also sang some more hymns and enjoyed a meaningful reflection by a guest speaker and night prayer.

  With special thanks to Joseph Durham for helping to organise the trip and delivering the on-board entertainment.

  I would strongly recommend anybody to go on the Annual Hallam Pilgrimage.  Next year’s Fortieth Celebration is likely to be even more popular.  Save the Date!  40th ANNUAL DIOCESAN PILGRIMAGE TO WALSINGHAM – Saturday, 25 July, 2020.  Put it in your diaries now!