All of these things can be found in the village of Little Walsingham, which captures the essence of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. It is a place rich in archaeological treasurers and places of religious and historical interest.
Set in its woodland setting, Little
Walsingham’s main high street is completely medieval, with red-brick and
timber framed houses, whitewashed fronts and red pantiled roofs. The
village has been a place of pilgrimage since Saxon times through to 1538
and is famous for its Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Each King from Richard I to Henry VII came to do homage at the shrine, which was said to even rival Canterbury. Unfortunately most of the shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII as part of the order of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, though the shrine still attracts lots of visitors each year.
The high street broadens out into a square called Common Place, in the middle of which is a 16th century octagonal pump house with an iron brazier on its stone roof, known as ‘The Beacon’. Originally the pump house had a pinnacle but this was broken off in 1900 during some rather rowdy celebrations.
The high street has lots of souvenir and gift shops, a well equipped village stores, pubs and inns and a number of quaint tea rooms. There is an inn called The Bull which dates from the 15th century and we understand has a rather racy history. Roman Catholic hospices are to be found in the village and the famous 14th century Slipper Chapel and the Chapel of Reconciliation are in nearby Houghton St. Giles. Pilgrims used to remove their shoes before completing the 1 mile journey to the shrine barefoot. The Chapel of Reconciliation opens it doors in the summer months to include the congregation outside.
The church of St. Mary was built by the canons, but was gutted by fire in 1961 though it has been very well restored. Contained within it is a fine seven sacrament font which was considered so good that a plaster cast was made of it for the great exhibition in 1851, held in the Crystal Place. There is a path which runs south through the fields and is known as the Holy Mile, between Walsingham and the Slipper Chapel. After the Reformation the Slipper Chapel was used as a cowshed but in 1897 it was restored on the private initiative of a local woman. 1934 saw the Roman Catholic church declared it a 'National Shrine'.
Bridewell Street - the name comes from the old
prison, which is nearby and still has the treadmills used by the prisoners
in it. Designed by John Howard this place is untouched since it closed in
In 1511 Henry VIII walked the last mile to the shrine barefoot as was the custom.
In the church note the porcupine on the Sydney Tomb which is the family crest though it has lost its spines, also the knight and his lady lying side by side.
The story goes
that in 1061 during the Crusades Lady Richeldis de Faverches had a vision
in which she was commanded by the Holy Virgin to build a Santa Casa a
replica of Nazareths Holy House where the Archangel Gabriel appeared to
Mary, to inform her of the coming birth of Jesus. The Virgin indicated to
Lady Richeldis two possible building sites. Lady Richeldis chose one of
the areas and the next day work began. The tale then says that the night
after work had begun, Lady Richeldis unable to sleep heard singing coming
from outside. She rushed out and saw angels departing from a
completed wooden structure, but not on the first site but on the second
site, beside two holy wells. After that, miracles began to be associated
with this little wooden building. Eventually the shrine she built was
added to by both the Augustinian and the Franciscan foundations.
Cokers Hill is worth a visit as it is full of interesting cottages.
It is even said that following the Reformation the Slipper Chapel was closed down and even spent some time as a cowshed, before being opened again in 1921.
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