A £10m project is underway to update the Walsingham Shrine and equip it for the needs of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.
Since the vision of Our Lady to Richeldis in the 11th century the Holy House of Nazareth Shrine has undergone many transformations, destruction, restoration and development. In the many ways the current shrine falls short of the needs of today’s pilgrims. Just like any priest moving to take over a new parish, Mgr John Armitage looked at the shrine and thought, “What needs to be done?” and after consulting widely, he has set out a three phase plan for the next three years.
The first phase will see a new pilgrim hall and conference centre to accommodate more than 100 people with technology and catering for pilgrims and to stage social and educational events. A new media centre is to be established with live television stream of the daily pilgrim Mass and broadcasts of talks and interviews on the Catholic faith. A blog will keep people up to date with issues and an interactive web page will help foster discussion.
The second phase will see a wider range of accommodation at the shrine with 52 en-suite bedrooms, 20 more with disabled access, family rooms, upgrading of dining areas and a hostel for younger pilgrims. The shrine has secured a 99-year lease of the former Sue Ryder building, Elmham House, which is to become a new retreat centre.
The shrine itself is to have a new look with improved pilgrim catering, a cloister to house religious art and exhibitions as well as providing a shelter from the rain. The Chapel of Reconciliation is to have a canopied area for outside Masses and a new roof. Inside there are plans for a new ceiling and new lighting.
Mgr John says that to complete the shrine in readiness for the needs of the 21st century and also to make it a resource for the Church in England is going to be a major project: ‘Within weeks of the launch the shrine has already received £325,000 in donations and bucket collections from pilgrims and visitors have brought in another £20,000. I have been coming to Walsingham regularly since I was a teenager and know the shrine well. This is a medieval shrine and it is important to show its history through the ages through the lives of the saints, which I aim to do through the art shown in the cloister areas. The infrastructure work will make it possible to improve the shrine to pilgrims with better accommodation and the media hub will make it appropriate to today’s world by communicating the faith via the Internet. Pilgrims visiting the shrine need somewhere to stay, a refreshing cup of tea without have to queue for too long and shelter from the rain. We also want to attract more young people as pilgrims, visitors and helpers.’
‘I also hope that many people will contribute to our target of £10m to complete the shrine and to create a venue suitable for our times’.
Anyone who wants to help with a contribution is asked to email Mgr John on firstname.lastname@example.org.