Walsingham Shrine in Norfolk given special status by the Pope
- Credit: Archant © 2006
Pope Francis has awarded minor basilica status to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, near Wells.
The designation is given by the Holy Father to places of worship which are of particular historical significance.
The Pope's decree was announced at Walsingham at the feast of the Holy Family by Bishop Alan Hopes, the Catholic Bishop of East Anglia.
'There's so much happening here,' he said. 'So much growth has been going on for so many years and this shrine plays such an important part in the life and the mission of the church in our country. This is a wonderful thing to have been given to us.'
Monsignor John Armitage, Rector of the Shrine of Our Lady, said: 'This is wonderful news. It's a recognition by the Holy Father of the long history of this shrine.
'It's a recognition of the remarkable devotion, particularly of the people who work here, the volunteers and all the loyal pilgrims who come from so far, for so often and from such great distances.'
The Shrine of Our Lady dates back to the 11th Century, when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in a vision to the then lady of the manor, Richeldis de Faverches. She built a replica of the house where the Annunciation took place, where the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.
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Walsingham shrine is the first place of worship in Britain to be awarded the accolade since 1941, when Birmingham's St Chad's Cathedral was declared a minor basilica.
Just two other churches - Corpus Christi, in Manchester; and St Gregory the Great, at Stratton-on-the-Fosse, in Somerset - have been granted minor basilica status.