Bishop of Norwich begins Norfolk pilgrimage: “I am seeking God’s heart and healing for those affected by coronavirus.”
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
During the national Year of Pilgrimage, the Bishop of Norwich will be walking to Walsingham to pray for those affected by coronavirus
After a week where the heavens opened seemingly continuously, the sun shone as Bishop Graham Usher set out on his pilgrimage from Norwich to Walsingham.
The three-day walk, which will be carried out in stages, will take in some of the county’s churches for prayer stops along the way and leads to Norfolk’s most famous holy village.
And as he walks, the Bishop will be praying for all of those who are affected by coronavirus, from those who are ill to those who have lost loved ones and those whose lives and livelihoods have been touched by the pandemic.
In 1061, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, the widow of the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham Parva, called Richeldis, had a vision of the Virgin Mary.
During her vision, she was instructed to take a note of the measurements of the Holy House in Nazareth and build a copy in Walsingham.
The village, close to Wells-next-the-Sea has been venerated as one of the holiest places in England for centuries and countless people have visited to ask Mary to pray to Jesus on their behalf.
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In the late Middle Ages, it was believed to be the duty of every Englishman to visit the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham at least once in his lifetime.
Bishop Graham said: “Pilgrimage is a meaningful journey to a sacred place. It provides the opportunity to step out of the non-stop busyness of our lives, to seek a time of quiet and reflection.
“I’m intent on using this time to seek God’s heart and healing for all those affected by coronavirus. Do look out for me if I’m passing through your neighbourhood and please do all join me in praying during this time.”
Along the 30-mile walk, the Bishop will sometimes be joined by a member of the local clergy, who will accompany him for a section of the journey.
Early pilgrims sent messages across the country to verify that their prayers had been answered following their visits and in around 1226, King Henry III made his first of many pilgrimages to Walsingham.
Nearly all the Kings and Queens of England, up to and including King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, followed in his footsteps, visiting the Norfolk village for salvation.
By the late Middle Ages, so many people wanted to make a pilgrimage that the Church had to implement rules: would-be pilgrims would require permission from their Bishop before setting out and would need to prove their affairs were in order.
The main route to Walsingham was from London via Waltham Abbey, Newmarket, Brandon, Swaffham, Castle Acre priory and East Barsham, but a second route was established which ran through Norwich and Attlebridge.
Today, the Walsingham Shrine receives an estimated 100,000 pilgrims each year.
Norwich Cathedral has been working in partnership with Norfolk County Council, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Shrines, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist and local parishes, landowners and businesses to renew the walking pilgrimage.
In August 2019, the European Union’s LEADER programme awarded the Cathedral a grant of £31,000 to fund design costs and to waymark the rural portion of the Walsingam Way from Ringland to Walsingham with wooden signposts.
The urban portion of the route, which is primarily along Marriott’s Way, will be paid for by Norwich Cathedral and will see stickers attached to marker points.
Work is being carried out with Norfolk County Council to finalise the route to make it safe for groups of walkers and an application will be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund to support workshops in communities to help them consider ways to use the presence of pilgrims to support economic development and interpret local heritage.
Additionally, other groups are working with the Cathedral and the Walsingham Shrines to develop routes from other directions, including an ecumenical group in King’s Lynn and another looking at a route from Canterbury to Walsingham via Tilbury.
In March, Canon Librarian Peter Doll wrote: “The grant award was made in recognition of the potential of pilgrimage to make a significant contribution to rural economic development in the region through sustainable, environmentally-friendly tourism.
“As Christians, we want to be supporting the life of our communities, but we do of course have another agenda, a mission of our own.
“We believe that through a close encounter with God’s creation and with the story of his blessing of his communities through the life of the church, pilgrims can be brought to a recognition of the nearness of God’s Kingdom and of his love and care for each of them.”
Pilgrims making the journey across country in the Middle Ages would have faced the dangers of wolves, boars and robbers: Bishop Graham must be mindful of a modern-day peril – cars.
Bishop Graham’s pilgrimage began with morning prayer at the Cathedral and a blessing by the Dean outside the Cathedral west doors. He then walked through Norwich via Tombland and Colegate and then to Drayton, Taverham and Ringland, ending the first day’s walk at Weston Longville Church.
His journey will begin again the today with morning prayer at Weston Longville, then on through Lyng, Elsing and Swanton Morley, aiming to end at the North Elmham Cathedral ruin at around 1pm.
The final leg of the Bishop’s pilgrimage tomorrow will begin from North Elmham with morning prayer, then continue through Great Ryburgh, Stibbard, Kettlestone, Little Snoring, Great Snoring, Little Walsingham and conclude at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at around 3pm.
When newly-ordained as Bishop of Dudley in 2014, Bishop Graham carried out a mini-pilgrimage, walking and cycling 32 miles to Worcester from Dudley before being rowed across the River Severn on the Cathedral ferry to be installed as Canon of the city’s Cathedral.
Bishop Graham has released this prayer which he welcomes people to use during his pilgrimage:
A prayer for all those affected by coronavirus
Keep us, good Lord,
under the shadow of your mercy.
Sustain and support the anxious,
be with those who care for the sick,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may find comfort
knowing that nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.