The story of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham begins with the lady Richeldis de Faverches in 1061, but there is a back story too. The Conversion of the East Angles began in the 7th Century with missionary monks establishing bases on the coast and along river valleys. It all went swimmingly well, until the Viking Great Heathen Army saw the minster churches – the hubs of Christian faith and practice – as a rich source for plunder. A recent study by the University of East Anglia’s Prof Tom Williamson and Austin Mason of Carelton College – Ritual Landscapes in Pagan and Early Christian England – provides the most complete geographical account.
Pilgrims travelling from Great Yarmouth to Norwich, skirt Breydon Water and follow the River Yare upstream to Norwich, continuing in the Wensum Valley as far as Great Ryburgh. After crossing the watershed to Little Snoring, they follow the River Stifkey into Walsingham. On the way they will have passed most to most important historical sites of the conversion of the North – Folk (Norfolk)!
Burgh Castle, on the south side of Breydon Water, is most likely the site of St. Fursey’s 7th C monastery. His contemporary St. Felix, the first bishop of the East Anglians, founded churches at Reedham and Loddon. Great Ryburgh and North Elmham were both important 8th C centres. Most importantly, North Elmham, the seat of the bishop until the see moved to Norwich, was close to the existing Anglo-Saxon central place and cemetery at Spong Hill. And Norwich the place today’s Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals , is close to the most important Roman centre of Venta Icenoram ( Caister, St. Edmund) and it’s related Anglo-Saxon burial sites.