Walsingham and the Successor of St Francis
St Joseph’s Solemnity [19th March 2018] was the perfect feast for the Guardian of the charism of St Francis to historically visit England’s Nazareth for the very first time. As the 119th Successor to the saint who heard God say “Francis, go and rebuild my Church” Friar Marco Tasca, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual – the Greyfriars – responded to the voice of his fellow friars to return to Walsingham for the conversion of England.
St Francis hoped that before his death a group of his brothers would be sent to England to evangelise about our Lord, this wish came true in September 1224. As part of England’s heritage, known as Mary’s Dowry, Walsingham was an inevitable location for the friars to establish their presence because it was one of the four major Medieval Christian Shrines, and the only one devoted to Mary, the Mother of God.
For St Francis the Blessed Virgin Mary was Mother, Advocate and Queen of each of his three Holy Orders – His Lesser Brothers, Clare’s Poor Sisters and the Secular Franciscan Order of Lay Brothers and Sisters of Penance. Saint Bonaventure tells us:
“[Francis] loved with an unspeakable affection the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, forasmuch as that she had made the Lord of Glory our Brother, and that through her we have obtained mercy. In her, after Christ, he put his chief trust, making her his own patron and that of his Brethren, and in her honour he fasted most devoutly from the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul until the Feast of the Assumption.” Bonaventure: The Life of St Francis – Chapter IX:3
The Holy House at Walsingham, Norfolk, England
Much like the small tumbled-down church at San Damiano that Francis rebuilt in response to his literal understanding of what God had asked him to do, its not hard to understand why the Franciscan friars were drawn to England’s Nazareth, the Holy House at Walsingham. Both locations were about rebuilding God’s Church and establishing buildings where faith could dwell and grow within pilgrims.
It was in the Norfolk village of Walsingham in 1061 that the devout English Lady Richeldis de Faverches experienced three visions in which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her. In these visions Richeldis was shown the house of the Annunciation in Nazareth and was requested to build a replica of it, the Holy House in Walsingham was to become a place of pilgrimage where people could visit and give honour to the Mother of God. Mary is said to have promised that “Whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.”
In Medieval times when travelling abroad became difficult because of the Crusades, Walsingham quickly evolved into a place of great Christian importance and a place of pilgrimage, ranking high alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago da Compostella [where today a statue to Our Lady of Walsingham can be found].
Franciscans Arrival in Britain
It was during Francis’ life-time that the first Franciscans arrived in Great Britain on 10th September 1224 establishing friaries in Canterbury, Oxford, London and quickly expanded to embrace many principal towns. Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, who led this mission, had been chosen by St Francis himself to go to England and become the first Minister Provincial. On this first voyage he was accompanied by eight Franciscan brothers; three of whom were English. From this mission of evangelisation their contribution was vast. One person who stands out in particular is Blessed John Duns Scotus, he was one of the most important philosopher theologians of his time. His arguments in defence of the Immaculate Conception appeared in Pope Pius IX’s 1854 declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. [CCC 490-493 – Mary’s Immaculate Conception]
Another Greyfriar John of Peckham later became the first and only Franciscan Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Greyfriars arrived at Walsingham during 1347 and had an active ministry of supporting pilgrims including lepers. By 1534 there were approximately 60 Conventual Franciscan friaries in England and six Observant friaries. It was during that year when King Henry VIII bought in the English Reformation and the country adopted the Protestant tradition of belief. By 1538 all 60 Conventual Franciscan friaries had been suppressed.
Today  it is fitting that in a few months’ time a small community of Greyfriars will come to live in Walsingham to support the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham as a Centre of the New Evangelisation. Hospitality is the hearth of a mother’s home. The mission of the Franciscan Greyfriars returning to Walsingham intends to welcome others into their Mother’s home at the heart of the English nation. It is in the spirit of charity and love to “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” [Rom.15:7]
Our Lady of Walsingham – Pray for us
St Joseph as Father of the New Evangelisation – Pray for us
St Francis of Assisi – Pray for us
The above text adapted, added to and crafted from the copyright 18th March 2018 Press Release of the National Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The Litany of Our Lady of Walsingham
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray to the Lord for us.
Mary conceived without sin,
pray to the Lord for us.
Mary the Virgin, pray to the Lord for us.
Mary, the Mother of God, pray to the Lord for us.
Mary taken up into heaven, pray to the Lord for us.
Mary at Bethlehem, pray for all mothers.
Mary at Nazareth, pray for all families.
Mary at Cana, pray for all married couples.
Mary who stood by the Cross, pray for all who suffer.
Mary in the Upper Room, pray for all who wait.
Mary model of womanhood, pray for all women.
Woman of Faith, keep us in mind.
Woman of Hope, keep us in mind.
Woman of Charity, keep us in mind.
Woman of Suffering, keep us in mind.
Woman of Anxiety, keep us in mind.
Woman of Humility, keep us in mind.
Woman of Poverty, keep us in mind.
Woman of Purity, keep us in mind.
Woman of Obedience, keep us in mind.
Woman who wondered, remember us to God.
Woman who listened, remember us to God.
Woman who followed Him, remember us to God.
Woman who longed for Him, remember us to God.
Woman who loves Him, remember us to God.
Mother of God, be our Mother always.
Mother of Men, be our Mother always.
Mother of the Church, be our Mother always.
Mother of the World, be our Mother always.
Mother we need, be our Mother always.
Mother who went on believing, we thank God for you.
Mother who never lost hope, we thank God for you.
All holy and ever living God, in giving us Jesus Christ to be our Saviour and Brother, you gave us Mary, his Mother, to be our Mother also; grant us, we pray you, that we may be worthy of so great a Brother and so dear a Mother. May we come at last to you the Father of us all, through Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
Prayer to Mary, Our Lady of Walsingham
O Mary, recall the solemn moment when Jesus, your Divine son, dying on the cross, confided us to your maternal care. You are our Mother, we desire ever to remain your devout children. Let us therefore feel the effects of your powerful intercession with Jesus Christ. Make your name again glorious in this place once renowned throughout our land by your visits, favours and many miracles. Pray, O holy Mother of God for the conversion of England, restoration of the sick, consolation for the afflicted, repentance of sinners, peace to the departed. O Blessed Mary, Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us.
Prayer for England
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, thy Dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope, was given unto the world; and he has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O sorrowful Mother, intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the Chief Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith, fruitful in good works, we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee in our heavenly home.