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. The Conversion of the East Angles began in the 7th Century with missionary monks establishing bases on the coast and along river valleys. It was all going swimmingly well, until the Viking Great Heathen Army saw the minster churches – the hubs of Christian faith and practice – as being rich 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.
If a pilgrim travelled from the start point of the Norolk Saints Way at Burgh Castle; along the valley of the River Yare to Norwich and continued on the Walsingham Way, in the Wensum Valley, through North Elmham ; before cutting across the watershed at Little Snoring, to Walsingham in the valley of the River Stifkey; they would have visited many of the most important sites.
Along the way are churches said to have been founded by St. Fursey, at Burgh Castle; and by St. Felix at Reedham, Loddon and Elmham (if it was North rather than South Elmham) as well as the two cathedral churches in Norwich (Anglican and Roman Catholic), and the former cathedral at North Elmham, close to the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Spong Hill.
All history has a back story, a past, and a future. We continue to write the history today. Is the church now on a journey back to the future by re-creating minster churches as mission hubs for the 21st Century?