Churches & Chapels
Walsingham’s fine churches and chapels
Shrines aside, there is much in Walsingham to entice those who enjoy looking around churches. The parish churches are fascinating and surely Walsingham is the only village in England with three Orthodox places of worship.
St Mary’s and All Saints Church, Little Walsingham
The parish church of Little Walsingham sits on the site of the original Saxon village of Walsingham Parva, on the opposite side of the River Stiffkey to today’s village.
The tower is 14th century Decorated Period and the nave 15th century, but this is not your classic medieval church. On 14th July 1961 the church was almost completely destroyed by fire. Only the tower, the south porch and the font were spared. The church was reconstructed between 1961 and 1964, and inside the medieval exterior is a stunning modern church.
To the left as you go in is the tomb of Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Chamberlain to Elizabeth I, who died in 1612. The seven sacraments font is accounted the finest in Norfolk and is a wonderful example of medieval craftsmanship. It was considered so good that a full sized plaster cast of the font stood in the Gothic Court at the 1851 Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace.
The East Window (pictured above and below), designed by John Hayward in 1964, beautifully portrays the history of Walsingham. There are some fine examples of medieval stained glass that survived the fire.
A past vicar of St Mary’s, the Rev George Ratcliffe Woodward, wrote Ding Dong Merrily on High.
It was Fr Alfred Hope Patten, vicar here from 1921-1958, who rebuilt the Anglican shrine in Walsingham. He had a statue to Our Lady of Walsingham placed in the Guilds Chapel and arranged the first Anglo-Catholic pilgrimage in 1922. The statue was moved to the shrine when it was completed in 1931.
St Peter’s Church, Great Walsingham
The parish church of Great Walsingham is one of the finest examples of an unspoilt Decorated Church, built between 1330 and 1340. St Peter’s Church features in Simon Jenkin’s 100 Top English Churches. The Chancel fell some time during the early 16th century. The seven Clerestory windows are original and have highly unusual semi-circular hoods.
The tower still has the original set of three bells first cast for it by William Silisden of King’s Lynn, in a design suggesting a date between 1330 and 1350. This is the oldest set of three bells by one bell-founder in England — an extraordinary achievement.
The 15th century poppy head pews are delightful, depicting flowers, animals, saints, angels and townsfolk. The benches they sit atop are one of the most complete sets of 15th century pews in Norfolk.
RC Parish Church of the Annunciation
A beautiful new church, in the Norfolk round tower tradition, designed by one of the parishioners, Anthony Rossi, on the site of an old ‘temporary’ church from the 1950s.
The light and airy church accommodates, twice the congregation of the old and is the first carbon-neutral church built in the UK with solar panels for electricity and a deep-bore heat exchange system. Note the stunning East Window and crucifix by Mark Corith. The church was dedicated on the Feast of the Annunciation in 2007.
Methodist Church, Little Walsingham
In 1779 the Wesleyan Society was founded in Walsingham. On October 30th 1781 John Wesley made his only visit to Walsingham and preached in Friday Market. In 1794 the very fine Georgian Church was built, the oldest still in use in East Anglia.
The interior still has its original gallery with boxed pews, though the downstairs pews, high pulpit and organ were added in Victorian times.
The inspiration for establishing an Orthodox church presence in Walsingham began with the building of the Anglican Shrine in 1931. Inspired by one of the Guardians of the Shrine, Fr Hope Patten invited the Orthodox to take part in the venture. Archbishop Seraphim of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile in Paris, came to bless a plot of land to the south of the restored Holy House, with the intention of building an Orthodox chapel.
Though this plan was never carried out, a small Orthodox chapel was included in the Shrine, furnished with an icon screen and all the features necessary for Orthodox worship.
In 1966 the Administrator of the Shrine asked the Orthodox to take responsibility for the care of the chapel. A missionary Brotherhood of St Seraphim was formed to establish a permanent presence in Walsingham. Its task was to include iconography, printing English texts of Orthodox services, missionary activity, and work with the poor and homeless. From here, the Orthodox presence really took off.
Perhaps the most curious place of worship is the Russian Orthodox Chapel created in 1967 out of the old railway station booking hall and ticket office. Dedicated to St Seraphim, its quaint exterior houses a tiny Orthodox chapel with beautiful bright icons. It is open daily for prayer, with occasional services held, especially at feasts of St Seraphim. Click here for more information about the Orthodox Chapel and the Old Railway Station.
Orthodox Church of the Holy Transfiguration,
The original Victorian Methodist chapel on the village green was built in 1895, but in 1988 it was converted into the Russian Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration. The knapped flint work is outstanding.
Inside there are exquisite icons painted by the brotherhood of St Seraphim. The church has recently become Greek Orthodox.
Services in English are celebrated here at weekends and occasionally on weekdays for certain feasts.
Chapel of the Life-Giving Spring of the Mother of God
This chapel within the Anglican Shrine serves as a pan-Orthodox place of prayer and worship.
St Giles Church, Houghton St Giles
When you wander down the Holy Mile to visit the Slipper Chapel and Roman Catholic Shrine, take a look at the parish church of Houghton St Giles. The great treasure of the church is the rood screen of twelve painted panels depicting the holy women and their children, and teachers of the church (pictured below).
The church has been much altered over the centuries. It appears to date from the 13th century, though new windows were added sometime in the next 200 years, and the south porch built in the 15th or 16th century.
During the 19th century it fell into a ‘ruinous and most unsafe state, totally unfit for the purpose of Divine Worship’. It was dismantled to the foundations and almost completely rebuilt by the Patron Henry Lee Warner in 1877, under the direction of architect W Eden Nesfield.
His approach to the restoration was very progressive, and entirely opposite to that of earlier Victorians. He specified that everything that could be salvaged should be reused, and replaced exactly in its old position in the new building. The result is that the feel of the church is not in the least Victorian, but much more ancient.