The Pynson Ballad
The Story of Our Lady of Walsingham
“All who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me there in that little house you have made in Walsingham. To all that seek me there shall be given help.”
Our Lady to Richeldis de Feverches in 1061.
“When England returns to Walsingham Our Lady will return to England.”
Pope Leo XIII. 1893
This chapel was founded in the year 1061, during the reign of Saint Edward, King of our land.
All you spiritual people devoted to this place, coming to ask Our Lady’s help in all kinds of trouble and need, you can learn how this chapel came into existence by reading the story of a miracle as recounted below.
A noble widow, sometime lady of this place, a woman of virtuous life whose name was Richeldis, asked Our Lady if she could honour her in some special way. The Blessed Virgin granted this prayer in the manner I shall describe, asking her to build this chapel in her memory.
Our Lady led Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house where the angel had greeted her. “Look, daughter,” said Our Lady. “Take the measurements of this house and erect another one like it in Walsingham, dedicated to praising and honouring me. All who come there shall find help in their need.
It shall be a perpetual memorial to the great joy of the Annunciation, ground and origin of all my joys and the root of humanity’s gracious Redemption. This came about through Gabriel’s message that I would be a mother through my humility, and conceive God’s Son in virginity.”
The devout woman saw this vision three times. She gladly took note of the measurements of the building, thanking our Lady for the grace that never deserts the needy. That very same hour she called workmen together to build the chapel Our Lady asked for.
That night a meadow was soaked with heavenly dew sent down by Mary. Only two places were marked as her choice, for on them no dew had fallen. They remained dry. This was the first intimation of where our new Nazareth should stand, built like the first in the Holy Land.
When everything was ready Richeldis remained in a quandary. Which of the two places shown by Our Lady should be chosen for her house since both areas were equal in circumference? For there were two miraculous dry places in the dew, as Gideon’s fleece had likewise remained dry.
The widow thought that the best choice would be to erect Our Lady’s house where the chapel of St Lawrence now stands by the twin wells. Visitors to the place know it well.
The carpenters set to work, digging the foundations on which the holy house would rise. But they were soon baffled by the fact that nothing seemed to fit together properly despite all their carful reckoning. They felt very discouraged at this failure for they could not account for it naturally.
At last they laid down their tools and Richeldis told them to go off and rest. She was confident that Our Lady, who was the initiator of the work in hand, would bring it to completion in her own way. For this Richeldis prayed earnestly.
All night the widow remained in prayer; while our Blessed Lady, the chief architect, raised the house by the hands of angels and set it two hundred feet or more from the original site. Books mention this.
When the builders returned in the morning to continue their work, they found every part of the building faultlessly joined, far better than anything they could have done themselves. So each man returned to his own home, and the holy woman thanked Our Lady for the great favour she had shown her.
Since then Our Lady has performed many miracles here, too many to recount in a short space. For more than four hundred years chronicles bear witness that those who visit Mary’s house on pilgrimage are, as it were, daily showered with grace. Many sick have been cured by Our Lady’s power, the dead revived, the lame made whole, the blind have had their sight restored. Sailors have been brought safely to port through tempest and storm. Deaf-mutes, lunatics and lepers have all been made well through Our Lady’s intercession.
People troubled by evil spirits have experienced deliverance. Also souls suffering from inner problems have found comfort. Every human suffering, bodily or spiritual, can find a remedy here by devoutly calling upon Our Lady.
Therefore, pilgrims all, strive to serve Our Lady with humble love. Apply yourself to doing as she would wish, remembering the great joy of her Annunciation. This brief ballad, though lacking in rhythm and eloquence, has been written in her honour.
Educated folk with greater intelligence can learn more about the founding of this chapel by consulting learned books. Chronicles about it can help you understand the whole history and circumstances surrounding this place, for they bear witness to it.
O England, you have every reason to be glad that you are compared to the promised land of Sion. This glorious Lady’s grace and favour attest that you can be called everywhere the holy land, Our Lady’s Dowry, a name given to you from of old.
This title is due to the fact that here is built the house of new Nazareth in honour of our heavenly Queen and her glorious Salutation. As Gabriel hailed her with an ‘Ave’ in old Nazareth, so here that is daily remembered with joy. O gracious Lady, glory of Jerusalem, cypress of Sion and Joy of Israel, Rose of Jericho and Star of Bethlehem, O glorious Lady, do not deny our requests for you are the most merciful of all women. Therefore, Blessed Lady, grant your great grace to all who devoutly visit this place.
This account of the founding of Walsingham is the only medieval document we have telling of the Shrine’s beginnings. It was printed by Richard Pynson in 1493, but most likely dates from around 1465. The documents and books referred to in the ballad have now all been lost.
This is a modern and slightly adapted rendering of the story, found on a sighn board in Walsingham.
Read about my pilgrimage on foot to Walsingham in summer 2019: From Home to Walsingham