Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Shrines, pilgrimage and spiritual benefits - glimpse of Heaven

Shrine is the place of worship with chapel or Church built under the patronage of Our Lady, or Saints often associated with reported miracle, the dream (Walsingham) or vision (Evesham).
With few exceptions, shrines were built in medieval times and were recognized as places of pilgrimages. The name of shrine is chosen to honour Our Lady and contains the name of associated places (Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Lincoln). The shrines were often built in thanksgivings for granted in prayers petitions, favours etc. It was not uncommon in Middle Ages, that both Kings and commoners appeared at shrines to pay homage to Our Lady and pray for special graces. Most of the pilgrims brought gifts to be put at the feet of Our Lady's statue for the purpose of reminding her of the affections and needs or gratitude of the devotee. For example, no sooner was the birth of the shortlived son of the King Henry the VIIIth announced in 1511 than Henry himself hurried to East Barsham Manor outside Walsingham. Removing his shoes, the King walked barefoot to the shrine to place a necklace on the statue of Our Lady in thanksgiving. Years later, as Henry lay dying, he was overheard bequeathing his soul into the care of Our Lady of Walsingham. During the Hundred years War (1337-1443), the Earl of Sussex left the silver statue of himself, fully armed and mounted on his horse, to remind Our lady of Walsingham that he was off to fight the French. According to legend, King Arthur carried the image of Mary painted on the inside of his shield so that he could see her when going into battle. Arthur returned later on to Glastonbury to buried under the protection of his beloved Mother of God.

Women too came with gifts for Mary, often leaving expensive girdles inscribed with the Magnificat, worn devoutly during the pregnancy to ensure safe delivery. All this was to change very soon. Cardinal Wolsey was placed in charge of King's attempt to obtain from the Pope an annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Wolsey failed to produce the desired result, and fell from grace. In 1532 Henry extracted from the convocation of Canterbury an agreement which surrendered to the Crown the freedom to legislate about the English Church. This precipitated the resignation of Thomas More, Wolsey's successor as chancellor. In 1534 the Supremacy of the Crown Act confirmed to Henry and his successors the title of 'the only supreme head in earth of the Church in England'. Gradually changes were wrought in public worship, and anything that remained of the ways of Rome was obliterated. The few men and women who stood out against the desecrations that followed met with torture and death. The majority of the population either retreated into silence or accepted the inevitable. By 1536 most of the small monasteries had gone, and by 1539 larger ones had suffered the same fate. The last monasteries surrendered in the spring of 1540. For three hundred years, the shrines of the Blessed Virgin in England remained untenanted. Meanwhile the courage and sacrifice of recusant families enabled countless 'ordinary' Catholics to persevere in their faith. After the 1829 Act of Catholic Emancipation, shrines began to reopen. In 1897, an official announcement from the Pope restored the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at King's Lynn, prior to its eventual re-establishment at Walsingham itself. In the words of Pope Leo XIII, 'When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England'. The lanes of Suffolk and Norfolk are filled once more with pilgrims who went their way to Walsingham, and many also to visit the East Anglian shrines of Clare, Sudbury and Ipswich, and the ruins of Thetford Priory. Nevertheless, scars of separation are still in evidence. Anglo-Catholic shrine was built by efforts of Fr Alfred Hope Patten in 1920. The stones from dismantled during Reformation monasteries were included in the walls of the shrine and the main altar includes stone from original altar of Walsingham Priory. There is a belief that the dream of Christian unity may be achieved through the shrines of Our Lady. Here we may read inspiring words of the pilgrim visiting the shrine: 'The walls seem to be impregnated with prayer: there appears to be a whisper of prayer breathing around the place and the walls seem to give out and to surround you with an atmosphere of prayer...The very stones appear to have been mesmerised by the prayer, and great the peace to be obtained here by prayer. (after Ann Veil 'Shrines of Our Lady in England')

No doubt few experiences in life can equal or even approach those which stir the soul of an appreciative and spiritually sensitive person beholding objects and scenes hallowed by Our Blessed Lord, His heavenly Mother, and his Saints. What could be more thrilling to such a person, or to any true Christian for that matter, than to press lips to the object marking the spot where the Incarnate God was born; to stand in the Upper Room where He shared the paschal table with His apostles for the last time and instituted the Most Blessed Eucharist; to kneel with the agonizing Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane? What could be more inspiring than to be at the very place where Our Lady of Fatima appeared to Lucy, Francesco, and Jacinta, or to enter the House of Loreto in which Holy Family lived for much of thirty years? What could be more stimulating that to tread on ground crimsoned by the blood of Christ's heroes and heroines in the Colloseum, the catacombs, and on the streets of Rome? Then appear before the enthralled pilgrim places of immortal fame - Siena of St Catherine, Assisi of St Francis, Lisieux of St Therese, Avila of St Teresa, Segovia of St John of the Cross. These experiences help to increase devotion and love of God and His Saints in very specific and powerful way and are often accompanied by special graces of granted prayers. These favours give a pilgrim 'bit of Heaven' which when realized by the innermost sanctuary of the soul it portrays its true meaning. Heaven being indescribable makes it easier for us to realize that we cannot completely understand nor explain the true joys of one's soul, when in union with the soul of the Church which is so far removed even from all earth's most sacred reliquaries. But nevertheless, these sacred shrines act as windows to the soul, permeating rays of celestial grandeur to absorb its very substance. So it would seem that first of all, the necessary element in making a pilgrimage is proper disposition of one's soul in order to fully receive the hidden graces and love of the Lord while being singularly favoured to venerate His Hallowed Shrines.

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