Houghton St Giles, Walsingham, Norfolk, NR22 6AL
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
Image copyright Alex Ramsay
A fourteenth century wayside chapel for pilgrims to the major medieval shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, rescued from dereliction by Miss Charlotte Boyd and restored in 1904 by Thomas Garner. In 1934 the building became the national Catholic shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham and is now part of a complex of pilgrimage buildings. The chapel is of high architectural, historical and religious significance.
The shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham originated as a simple chapel built by Richelde de Fervaques in the late eleventh century, modelled on descriptions of the Holy House at Nazareth, the scene of the Annunciation, as revealed to Richelde in a vision. Her son Geoffrey visited the Holy Land on the first crusade in 1095 and donated land at Walsingham for the foundation of a priory for Augustinian canons. The ‘English Nazareth’ became a major pilgrimage site, second in importance in this country only to Canterbury.
The Slipper Chapel at Houghton St Giles (a village one mile distant from Walsingham) was built in the mid-fourteenth century as a wayside chapel to serve pilgrims approaching the end of their journey to the shrine. Its name derived from the tradition of pilgrims leaving their footwear there and walking the last mile to the shrine barefoot. Amongst the last royal pilgrims to do so were King Henry VIII and his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, in 1511.
After the priory was dissolved by Henry VIII, its famous wooden statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was sent up to London, where along with other images (including Our Lady of Ipswich) it was burnt (or so it is said; the historian Francis Young has recently suggested that it might have survived, and could be the statue known as the Langham Madonna, now displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum).
The chapel at Houghton became successively a poor house, a forge, a barn and a cowshed. It was still in agricultural use when it was purchased in 1896 by Miss Charlotte Boyd. As an Anglo-Catholic of independent means, Miss Boyd had in 1875 formed the English Abbey Restoration Trust, whose object was ‘to provide funds for the purchase of ancient ecclesiastical buildings which had passed into secular hands, and their restoration for worship according to the rites of the Church of England’ (quoted by Michael Hall in Bellenger, 129). By 1896 she had become a Catholic, so she had to restore the chapel at her own expense. She conceived the idea of reviving the chapel as a place of pilgrimage, but this failed to find support from Bishop Riddell of Northampton, who saw the site more as a mission station (and a modern shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham was being established at King’s Lynn, qv). Miss Boyd therefore offered the chapel to the Benedictines of Downside Abbey, where she had become an oblate. She invited the architect Thomas Garner to undertake the restoration, work which started in 1897 and was largely complete by 1904. Garner was also a Catholic convert, a decision which had led to the dissolution of his longstanding partnership with G.F. Bodley. It was almost certainly Garner who in 1898 provided the designs for a house in Gothic Arts and Crafts style on the southwest side of the chapel (now the presbytery), which replaced an old cottage on the northeast side. From 1900 Garner was also architect to Downside Abbey, where he designed the choir in which he is buried.
Downside did not actively promote the chapel as a mission, apparently on account of resistance from the bishop. The building lay virtually unused, with the adjoining house tenanted, until 1933, when the Benedictines transferred the site to the diocese. Prompted by the growth of the Angl0-Catholic shrine at Walsingham (a new Holy House opened in 1931), Cardinal Bourne of Westminster ordered the translation of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at King’s Lynn to the Slipper Chapel. In August 1934 the Cardinal led 12,000 people on a National Pilgrimage of Reparation to the chapel, re-enthroning an image of Our Lady which had been designed by Professor E. W. Tristram from a late medieval priory seal. An altar and screen were made by two local artists, James and Lilian Dagless, who in 1936 also made a Gothic canopy to go over Tristram’s statue (they also designed the altar and reredos for the Walsingham Chapel at St John’s (Cathedral), Norwich, qv). In 1938 a single-storey building containing a sacristy and a chapel of the Holy Ghost, designed by the Revd Bruno Scott-James, was built alongside the chapel, linked to it by a short cloister. The chapel was consecrated in September 1938, and was made the centre of a new and independent episcopal parish, with Bishop Youens of Northampton the first rector and the priest-custodian Fr Scott-James the first administrator.
In 1953, to commemorate the centenary in the following year of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, a new east window was installed; this was a late design by Geoffrey Webb, who died in 1954. Also at this time Bishop Parker of Northampton commissioned a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, from designs by the Canadian artist Marcel Barbeau and made by W.F. Knight of Wellingborough.
In 1982 the large Chapel of Reconciliation (qv), seating up to 350, was built nearby.
From 1968 to 2014 the shrine was run by the Marists. In 2015 Pope Francis raised the chapel to the status of a minor basilica. At the time of writing there are major plans for the development of the site.
The chapel is a small building, rectangular on plan and roughly orientated (the east end in fact faces southeast). The walls are of flint with stone dressings and the pitched roof is covered with red tiles. The west gable end retains much of its medieval carved ornament, which is in an elaborate and slightly wilful Gothic style. To either side of the front are stepped diagonal buttresses, and in the centre is a pointed doorway flanked by two small niches (now blocked) with elaborate cusped heads in moulded frames. Above the doorway is a tall three-light window with cusped reticulated tracery. The window is flanked by tall niches with elaborate crocketed ogee heads. The niches contain twentieth century statues. The steep gable above the central window has niches at the base facing north and south and carrying stone plinths with crenellated caps. The apex of the gable is topped by a stone finial.
The side walls each have a quatrefoil frieze and a moulded parapet. The south side has two two-light traceried windows at the east end, introduced by Garner in 1904. Attached to the north side wall is a short cloister link to the flat-roofed chapel of the Holy Ghost, added in 1938. Both cloister and chapel have flint-faced walls and door and window openings with four-centred heads. The east gable wall of the Slipper Chapel was rebuilt in 1904; it has stepped side buttresses and a three-light window with cusped reticulated tracery. The roof gable has tabernacles on the side slopes and terminates in a carved finial.
Inside, the chapel is a narrow space with a tiled floor, plain plastered walls with the windows in deep reveals and an open timber roof, some of the timbers of which date from the fourteenth century. The east window has stained glass by Geoffrey Webb, installed in 1953 and depicting the Definition of the Dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady (1950). The west window is by Alfred Fisher and also depicts the Assumption; it was installed in 1997 to commemorate the centenary of the shrine. The sanctuary furnishings including the altar, the carved and gilded reredos and the pedestal and tall spirelet over the statue of Our Lady, by James and Lilian Dagless and dating from the 193os refurbishment. The painted stone statue of Our Lady of Walsingham dates from 1954, from designs by Marcel Barbeau.
The Holy Ghost chapel has as its centrepiece a large mosaic depicting Our Lady and the Apostles at Pentecost, by Anna Wyner, 1988.
Chapel. Roman Catholic. Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Mid C14 style. Decorated wayside chapel, restored 1904 by Thomas Garner, architect, and re-opened for regular worship in 1934. Flint walls with stone dressings and tiled roof of (Stone slates). West front with diagonally set buttresses, door and two niches; decorated 3-light window above with tracery inside reticulated framing, flanked by ogee headed niches with C20 statues; gable with central niches and two diagonally placed turrets. Fleuron-banded parapets to returns, with on south two 2-light Decorated windows. West window and west gable of 1904. Interior of three bays with restored C15 Perpendicular type arched braced roof. Furnishings mainly of 1934 by Miss Lillian Dagless, under the direction of Monseigneur Squirrel: the pedestal and spirelet to the statue (of 1954), altar and reredos. East window 1954 by Geoffrey Webb, Comper style and colouring. Arched tester over the altar. Corridor to north with sacristy and Chapel of the Holy Ghost (1938). Monseigneur Bruno Scott-James as architect; stone altar with gilt reredos; tester removed.
Listing NGR: TF9209535333
Cottage, 1898-99. By Thomas Garner architect. Flint with stone dressings and slates. Arts and Crafts Gothic. Two storey with central porch. Ground floor with 2 stone mullioned casement windows of 2- and 3-lights. String course division at first floor arched over the porch as drip-mould. Two-light mullioned casement in gable of porch. Central and north-end stack, stone coped parapets. Outshut rear.
Listing NGR: TF9208535316
Architect: Thomas Garner (restoration)
Original Date: 1350
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade I