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14: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk
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Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
Mystery Worshipper: Esmeralda Beakin.
The church: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Small, overcrowded, continental-looking shrine church, full of holy tat!
The neighbourhood: Walsingham was one of the most popular shrines in England before Henry VIII put a stop to it all in 1538. A replica of the holy house of Nazareth was built here in the 11th century, and this was the focus of the medieval pilgrims. Anglicans and Roman Catholics revived the pilgrimage in the 20th century, and the village is based around the Abbey ruins, shrine and hospice. It is full of shops selling holy artefacts in varying tastes.
The cast: Bishop Rowan Williams.
What was the name of the service?
An act of penitence, renewal of baptismal promises and sprinkling.

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were there on pilgrimage for five days, so it wasn't necessary to receive a special welcome for this service.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. I sat in an upright chair that was made for someone of a more ascetic build than me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Prayerful – the deep silence was almost tangible.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Come to the Lord with faith and confidence, for his love for us is strong, and he is faithful for ever.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Yes, a draught from the door to the garden – but only for a moment.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Deeply spiritual: good, modern Catholic liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10. Bishop Rowan is an excellent, well-respected theologian who can reach everyone, whether they are academic, or Mr & Mrs Average in the pew.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Be glad, God is glad in you (which is the literal meaning of 'Hail Mary, full of grace'). God has made a long, hard journey to us, being born as a human being from Mary's womb. He loves us unconditionally.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We wrote our 'sins' and worries onto a piece of paper and burned them. We then went to the holy well for sprinkling with holy water. It felt as though a burden was being lifted and a new, cleansed self was emerging.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
No part, really... unless it was the rather ugly carved heads at the top of the pillars glaring down on us.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't – I went to my room, and then joined the other pilgrims in the pub.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments. However, the beer in The Bull was excellent!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. This is a once-a-year pilgrimage place. I couldn't take too much of it as that would be escaping the gospel message of going out into the world.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much. It brought home to me the immensity of God's unconditional love and delight in us.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Going down to the holy well.
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