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The Roman Catholic Shrine of our Lady, the Slipper Chapel
The Roman Catholic National Shrine
The Roman Catholic National Shrine is today to be found at the Slipper Chapel, which is in Houghton St Giles, a mile south of Walsingham. It has been established there since 1934. In 2015 Pope Francis declared the shrine as a Minor Basilica, so its proper title is ‘The Basilica of our Lady, Walsingham’.
The former railway line, now called ‘The Pilgrim Way’, that leads south out of the Coach Park makes a very pleasant half hour stroll through the countryside direct to the Shrine. There is car and coach parking at both ends of the walk.
The Slipper Chapel
Built in 1325, the Slipper Chapel was the last and most important of the wayside chapels that pilgrims would stop at on the numerous pilgrim routes to the pre-reformation shrine in Walsingham.
Pilgrims stopped here to go to Mass and confess their sins, before slipping off their shoes and walking the final Holy Mile to the Holy House in Walsingham. The chapel is dedicated to St Catherine, the patron saint of pilgrims.
The name may come from the fact that pilgrims removed their shoes for the final mile, or it may come from the word slype meaning a way through or something in between, the slype or slip chapel standing as it did between the Holy Land of Walsingham and the rest of England.
After the reformation the chapel became successively a poor house, a forge, a barn and even a cow byre. In 1894 the ruin was bought by Miss Charlotte Pearson Boyd, restored and given back the Roman Catholic Church.
A shrine in King’s Lynn
The original pre-reformation (RC) shrine stood in the village from 1061 until its destruction in 1538 by Henry VIII’s commissioners.
In 1897 Pope Leo XIII gave permission for the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to be re-founded and this was done at the Lady Chapel of the Church of the Annunciation on London Road in King’s Lynn, then the parish church for all Roman Catholics in this area of North Norfolk.
From there, the first public pilgrimage since the Reformation came to Walsingham on 20th August 1897.
The King’s Lynn shrine can still be visited today, and is a replica of the Holy House of Loreto, similar to that found in the 1930s’ Anglican Shrine.
The Slipper Chapel today welcomes about 200,000 pilgrims and visitors throughout the year, with the main pilgrimage season being from May to the end of September.
The Chapel of Reconciliation
As well as the Shrine, there is the large Chapel of Reconciliation, where most services take place. This was consecrated by the Bishop of East Anglia in 1982. The chapel has a capacity of about 500, and when numbers exceed this it can be opened to the shrine grounds, so that several thousand people can attend Mass together.
The Tamil Pilgrimages
One of the biggest pilgrimages, this is now split over two occasions as it is so popular. This very colourful pilgrimage regularly attracts between six and seven thousand pilgrims in early May and July.
A well-stocked book and gift shop, plus a café providing good home-cooked food and excellent cakes, are to be found in the Cloister, along with the Shrine Reception and Mass office. There is also an exhibition about the history of the Walsingham Shrine and a picnic area.
Although service times differ according to each pilgrimage and season, there is always a 12 noon Pilgrim Mass (except Christmas Day, the first Tuesday and the second Sunday in July).
Details of the weekly programme of services and calendar of Pilgrimages can be viewed in full at the Roman Catholic National Shrine website.
The RC Shrine also offers accommodation at Elmham House, Friday Market in Walsingham, and they can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chapel of Reconciliation, Walsingham