Walsingham’s shows faith in past, present and future

It was 950 years ago that a vision began Walsingham's transformation from huddled hamlet to must-do medieval destination. Rowan Mantell reports on a celebration in the village of faith and dreams.

It was 950 years ago that the Mother of God appeared in the dreams of a Walsingham widow. It sparked a religious fervour which brought kings, queens and international fame to the tiny Norfolk village – and still draws people today.

In the dream, the Virgin Mary asked noble Norman widow Richeldis de Faverches to rebuild the house where, another 1,000 years and more before, and more than 2,000 miles away, an angel had revealed she was to be the mother of a messiah.

The Nazareth house was faithfully built in Norfolk, on land which is now part of the Abbey Gardens at Walsingham.

A spring of water bubbled up from underground and local people began to report being cured of illnesses. Barren women fell pregnant. Pilgrims arrived to pray for cures or to be blessed with children.

The miraculous visions of Richeldis de Faverches were the start of the miraculous rise of a tiny farming community to become one of the great religious sites of Europe.

This month villagers celebrate the 950th anniversary of the dreams which changed the course of their history. An exhibition will chart the story of the shrine village and also take visitors more than 1,000 years further back to a Roman temple and nearby Iron Age camps. It will also celebrate 21st century Walsingham.

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Tim McDonald, manager of Walsingham's Roman Catholic Shrine and chairman of the local history society, said: 'We are hugely excited about this exhibition. It presents a significant sweep of the village's history and shows Walsingham is much more than just a place of pilgrimage.'

The history group has put together a fascinating timeline of Walsingham's story, taking visitors from the very earliest artefacts and landscape clues of a distant past, up to the present. The anniversary exhibition also links events in Walsingham with what was happening in the wider world.

To read more about Walsingham's fascinating history see the EDP Sunday supplement in this Saturday's EDP.

The Walsingham 950 exhibition is in Little Walsingham Parish Hall, High Street, on Friday, June 10 (10am-6pm,) Saturday, June 11 (10am-5pm) and Sunday, June 12 (10am-5pm.) Admission is �2. Refreshments available.

And storyteller Hugh Lupton will be retelling the story of Walsingham through two medieval ballads, in the crypt of Walsingham Abbey which inspired them. He will present tales of St Edmund, holy son of East Anglia, plus a performance inspired by the earliest written version of the founding of the shrine, and the Walsingham Lament, mourning its destruction. The storytelling evening will include music by Horse's Brawl. The Story of the Holy Well and the Legend of St Edmund begins at 7.30pm on Friday June 10. Tickets are �15. To book telephone 01328 820217.