Saturday, 3 September 2011

Ely-Walsingham: Day 3

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Day 3

I awoke to the sound of a cockerel doing his thing. "This is badass", I thought. Smeaton the Grey broke the idyllic thing by yelling, "Morning Hobbits, time to get up", and shaking everyone's tents. Bones was doing an impersonation of a dead dog, so I packed up all my stuff together and got dressed. I tried again and again to wake the wretched fellow up, but no joy. So, I told him that I was going to go and grab breakfast and would come back to help him take the tent down once he was up.

Wringing my hands with glee, I got to work on making a big pot of coffee. Once I'd set that going, I went to go and have a shave in the bathroom, which made me feel like a human. The coffee made me feel super-human, and I gather it made some other people feel pretty good too. I had some breakfast, and then went outside to see if Bones had got up. Unfortunately, he had already put the whole tent down on his own, which made me feel a bit bad. By now my shoes had dried out, pretty much, and we dumped all our stuff on the bus and got ready to go.

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The walk was a lot shorter today, but Fr Rowe became incapacitated by failing to take his own advice on Day 2:
Don't overdo it. It's more important that you walk tomorrow than today, don't be afraid to get the support vehicle.
The ghostly Father lagged behind for a while before being scooped up in the minibus and escorted to safety. And so we walked for our requisite set of miles before reaching a village green. Smeaton the Grey informed us that we could take a quick break for fifteen minutes. I was angling for the bathroom, and though it was about 0800hrs on a Sunday morning, there seemed to be activity in the posh pub on the other end of the green. Bones and I went to investigate, and it turned out to be a hotel-type place that was open for breakfast. Bones kindly ordered a round of coffees for himself, Smeaton the Grey and me. Very soon, the rest of the Company followed our lead and we were all in there having a nice cup of coffee.

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Fr Rowe recovering.

The Bloody Baron of Winslow, Antonio, found a nice bit of reading for himself:

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And we sat around and had a convivial break:

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However, we took a while about it... I was dreading the wrath of Smeaton the Grey, but as we didn't have so far, he seemed to be a bit more relaxed. We got walking again, singing more of the Rosary, and I was honoured to be able to wear a luminous jacket:

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We stopped again on the roadside, and Fr Rowe heard confessions. Before I joined the queue, Br Pietro of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate picked up my staff and chucked it into the bushes. I didn't really know why he did that, and when Bones asked him about it later, he seemed to have forgotten about it himself. Very peculiar. A priest hearing confessions on the side of an A Road (or whatever it was) was a strange but inspiring sight. I wonder what the drivers thought? I got my last confession of the pilgrimage in, and was given further exhortation, encouragement and eventually absolution. Fr Rowe's a great confessor, by the way. I was the last one, and as I returned to pick up by luggage and walk, I was met with the sight of Smeaton the Grey wearing my ridiculous hat, scarf and carrying the ubiquitous man-bag, chanting "Everybody look at me, I'm [my name]". He didn't do the Essex accent as well as the Boy Who Wasn't From Liverpool.

Here we are, wearily singing the Rosary:


Eventually we sang the Walsingham Hymn. It's a bit like the Lourdes hymn, only longer and more about Walsingham. It was great fun, we all took it in turns to sing verses. I got a bit excited when it came to the bit about how dreadful Henry VIII was and made a bit of a fool of myself in the Vincent Price-esque way I 'sang' it. Very embarrassing, I got exiled to the back of the Company to think about what a prat I was. Bones has got a video of it, which I'm sure will surface eventually and cause me to blush. After the end of that, we arrived at a sign saying this:

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Nearly there!

On the way down, we got closer and closer to the Slipper Chapel, our destination. I decided that I should probably read the excellent pilgrimage primer, which had details about the shrine. It held information about the apparition and its history as a site of pilgrimage, and I think it said that Our Lady said that no-one who came to Walsingham went away empty-handed. This forced me to stop and think. Yes, we were walking for the conversion of England. But why was I walking? I had already realised that the walk was a walk of penance, a chance to make some sort of reparation for the many sins which Our Lord had already forgiven me. But it seemed like Our Lady wanted to give us all something. But I didn't even know what I wanted or needed. So I had a thought, and it became clear what I had to petition Our Lady of Walsingham, the 'Seat of Wisdom' for. 

We were basically there. Doug was handed a processional cross, and we sang that beautiful hymn from the Palm Sunday liturgy, 'Gloria, laus, et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe Redemptor'. We processed into Walsingham, singing the Latin chants that, as far as I know, made up our patrimony for centuries - that chant seems to date to the 9th century. Also going on at Walsingham was the Youth 2000 festival, and there were some big tents. As we entered, singing with jubilation, I saw two kids run up to the Shrine's steward and yell,
"Scyooz me! Are dey Christians?"
I assume that they were asking that because they'd never heard Latin sung in a Christian context before, which I thought was interesting and sad.

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Tired, weary, dirty and smelly, our procession pulled up to the Slipper Chapel before which we kneeled and gave thanks for safely completing our pilgrimage. I didn't think that this fat, stupid hobbit would make it, and I'm sure other pilgrims doubted that they would too. But Almighty God had guided and brought us to his holy hill and his tabernacle, and soon we would go in unto the Altar of God, to God who was giving joy to our youth.

But that wouldn't happen for about 90 minutes, so I once again demonstrated how much of an unmortified modernist I was. I had seen a sign for the cafe, and what it offered, and so I grabbed Bones and said, "Laurence - there's cream tea". We trolled over to the cafe got the delicious scones, tea, clotted cream and jam that we had dreamt of throughout the pilgrimage. I was still wearing the safety luminous jacket thing, which made me a bit of a wasp magnet. That wasn't cool.

We sat around waiting for Mass, Doug took an opportunity to get a cigarette in:



Mass, a Votive of Our Lady, took place in the rather ugly Chapel of Reconciliation. I don't like those churches that are wider than they are long. But, the church was packed (300-500?) and Fr Rowe delivered another juggernaut of a sermon straight from his head through his mouth into our ears. I was so exhausted throughout the Mass that I kept having to stop myself from falling asleep. But in spite of my fatigue and the ghastly decor, it was very beautiful.

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Coolest MC ever

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The Holy Mile beckoned. It was time to take off our shoes. I tried to stow them in the bus, but it was locked. I wasn't sure what to do - but then I saw the procession approaching me. I had no choice but to carry them behind the procession. Fr Rowe, coped up and topped off with his biretta, led us in the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary as we hobbled and winced our way towards the location of the Holy House. Finally with a sense of purpose for my pilgrimage, each step brought each of us closer to our prizes, and to the location of the ancient site. About 100 people joined the Company, which made up about 130 people. We sang our way through the old archway, into the green where the remains of the ruined abbey stood. It was horrifying. It was so sad, to see such a beautiful structure wrecked and ruined by philistines. I can't find a photograph that does its noble, ruined beauty justice. Go there, see it for yourself. We processed to where the tabernacle would have stood, then veered around to the suspected location of the original Holy House.

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And, with the final blessing, the pilgrimage was done. We breathed a sigh of relief - and a sigh of sorrow that our blessed time together was nearly over, and that soon we little Hobbits, who had been through such an adventure, would have to return to reclaim and scour the Shire.

But we few, we happy few, we band of brothers - we who had shed blood and sweat together over the previous days, we shall be brothers, be we ne'er so vile. For this moment mortified our condition, and those who had spent the weekend at ease shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks, that walked with us to Walsingham!

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Non nobis, non nobis, Domine - sed nomini tuo da gloriam.

Continues with Day 3 (Aftermath)

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