Our Lady's Dowry

The paths worn across the land by the pilgrims' steps

Selig Suffolk – a Call to Fellow Pilgrims

The idea for this blog began on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2016. I had decided to walk from my home to the village of Preston St. Mary. I usually try to walk the local lanes and footpaths every day, and often combine it with saying a rosary.

Since I moved from South London to Suffolk a few months ago, an idea had been slowly forming in my head. I would walk as much as possible, exploring the countryside around my home. Ironically, I discovered that this was actually easier in south London, as there seemed to be far more footpaths around there! Here there are a few footpaths, but you generally have to walk on roads. This is usually fine on the back roads as there are very few cars. Anyway, the idea that was forming wasn’t just to walk, it was to walk with a purpose.

Since my first visit to the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham last year, I had become aware of the extensive network of Marian shrines and churches dedicated to Mary in East Anglia. The town nearest to where I live, Sudbury, itself had a Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Harvest, and in medieval times a procession with the statue of Mary and child would take place every year on the Feast of the Assumption through the town. People would wave sheaves of corn as they went.

The church of St. Gregory in Sudbury housed the statue, and it was built by Simon of Sudbury, who was beheaded in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. It is likely that the shrine would have been a stop on the pilgrim’s route to Walsingham, or to the shrine of King Edmund at Bury St. Edmunds.

I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy of the fascinating book Shrines of Our Lady in England by Anne Vail at Walsingham last year, and it sparked a desire in me to make my own pilgrimages to the shrines and churches dedicated to Our Lady.

One passage in particular has stuck with me the last few months as I have walked around my part of Suffolk. In her chapter on Ipswich Anne Vail talks about the Viking presence in this part of the world. She says:

“When the Danish invaders first reached the east coast of England in the ninth century, they recognised in the extraordinary atmosphere of the area some unearthly quality which caused them to refer to ‘selig Suffolk’ – holy Suffolk. In later centuries, the wealth of the Suffolk wool traders encouraged the building of numerous churches, many of which remain. There is a saying that, wherever the traveller finds himself in Suffolk, there is always a church in view.”

I recognised that quality too. The gently rolling hills and fields, the quality of the light, especially at the coast, and the skies as the sun sets – there is something undeniably peaceful and holy, almost a Marian quality to the area! Those who have a devotion to Our Lady will understand what I mean. You only have to light a candle at a shrine like Our Lady of Good Counsel at Clare Priory and be still for a while to feel it – the strength and serenity of Our Blessed Mother.

And yet, a sadness is undeniably part of this discovery too. To feel Mary’s presence is also to feel her loss, her absence. It’s not just that we have turned our back on our mother, it’s that for most of us we have actively scorned her, been embarassed by her and her Son. Even as I walk with my plastic rosary in hand, I feel self-conscious that someone will see me with it. Trying to live a faith in a place and time like this is always going to be setting yourself at odds with the culture, but that is fine. What I find sad is how viciously and completely the popular piety that built these shrines and churches should have been swept away and replaced with – well, with what? A flattened, disenchanted, empire of discontent.

The secular consumerism of the modern world is one thing. My friend Roger Buck shows how the Anglosphere pervades almost everywhere in his excellent book The Gentle Traditionalist. He lives in Ireland and is able to see remnants of the faith as lived and part of the culture there in a way that it’s just not possible to see in England. But it’s being attacked. Look at what Soros is doing. But as I say, that is one thing. Persecution by extremists is another.

In the few weeks leading up to my small pilgrimage on the Assumption, Christians had been attacked and killed for the faith in many countries. So had the wrong types of Muslims, and people of other faiths or no faith, it is important to add. But certain events such as the beheading of Father Jacques Hamel at the altar in Normandy made me shiver at the openness with which the demonic forces were willing to conduct their assaults on the Church.

As I walked and prayed, I reflected on this, and started to realise that my walks could become part of something larger, something Mary had requested at various places over the last 150 years – places like the Rue du Bac, Lourdes, Fatima, Akita and so on. And that is to pray the rosary and do penance.

The pilgrimages to places of Marian worship could become small offerings, ways of sanctifying others, of sanctifying the land, the people, and they could begin to reactivate the awareness of this land as Our Lady’s Dowry again.

There are many medieval churches in this county, and walking around them I became aware that they were like giant spiritual energy centres or powerhouses, now largely powerless or at least dormant. But they can be awoken! Our Lady wishes to use the faith that was once so strong in this country to wake people up, and alert them to the dangers approaching. Through prayer and penance we can change the culture, change the direction that we are heading.

So this blog is going to be a record of the pilgrimages that I do, and I would like it to host guest posts from people who want to do something similar where they live. If you are a Catholic willing to do a small pilgrimage/s and document it here I would love to hear from you – leave a comment below. Ideally we would have a network of English Catholics all making small prayerful journeys to Marian places of worship or shrines as a powerful spiritual offensive against the evil forces which grow daily ever more blatant. Of course this would hopefully help us all to grow in holiness ourselves! Please let me know if you can help in some way.

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Walsingham, Fatima and the Conversion of England

This summer I spent some time in Walsingham. I had been there before, but this year was the first time I was able to just absorb the atmosphere of the place and reflect on why it is known as ‘England’s Nazareth’.

Over the week, as I settled in to the rhythms of the place, praying the rosary, visiting both shrines (Anglican and Catholic), and going with my family to Mass, I felt a closeness to Our Lady that I had only really experienced in one or two other places. Lourdes had the same sense of peace and vitality, whilst being an obviously major centre of pilgrimage. Walsingham felt more everyday, but somehow still ‘Marian’. The title ‘England’s Nazareth’ comes from the nature of the original story there, the holy house built by the Lady Richeldis in 1061 in honour of the Annunciation in all its simplicity and humility. And this is really the key to the ‘everyday holiness’ of Walsingham.

The Shire, Tolkien’s hobbit homeland in Middle Earth, was both completely homely, ordinary and humble, and yet at the same time radiated an inner light from a higher world that meant the elves were quite at home there, and in fact can be found in some parts of the Shire even in Frodo’s lifetime. In the same way, Walsingham’s Marian beauty, this fragment of Our Lady’s Dowry, is holy in the same completely humble everyday way.

Joseph Pearce says the same thing here

The power of this lies in the fact that we are actually participating in a process in which God, through the intervention of His Blessed Mother, is working with our lowly human nature to conform us more closely to His will. We all experienced great graces in our week there. Powerful interior conversions happened there, bearing fruit in the reality of our family life. We are still broken and imperfect of course, but we have perhaps been granted pilgrims eyes, to see our destination more clearly.

Walsingham is a state of mind! You can take it with you! That’s also part of its power, as it is the same power as the Catholic faith itself. God is not asking for great acts of moral heroism from us. Christ says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30). God will work through us if we let Him. The Walsingham state of mind is one in which you say the rosary every day, or remember with thanks Christ’s sacrifice as you do the washing up. It’s the holiness of the small and the humble.

The Conversion of England

So what has Walsingham to do with Fatima? Well, both are associated with prophecies to do with the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart.

Pope Leo XIII said “When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England”. We pray for the return of England to the Catholic Faith. I have spoken to religious at Walsingham who say that Walsingham will be the instrument for the conversion of England. But how can this happen? It seems unlikely to many. I heard a sermon from Father James Mawdsley in which he made a very interesting analogy. He said that the Church of England is like the body of Christianity in this country and the Catholic faith is like the soul (with a small piece of the body). One cannot do without the other. All those beautiful medieval churches that I have written about in other posts on this blog are like corpses waiting for resurrection.

Imagine if they were resurrected and reanimated with a thriving Catholic faith! Church of England attendance, if continuing at current levels, will be zero by 2060, but never fear, Our Lady will return to her Dowry and take back her churches, they won’t go empty!

Conquering the World with Mary

Woman has, in the utmost sense of the word, been the bearer of salvation. This does not apply to the sphere of religion alone; but because it is true in this sphere, it is valid in general. The idea that nations and countries, if they are to prosper, need good mothers, expresses, in addition to its obvious, biological truth, the deeper reality that the world of the spirit also desires, not only the guidance of man, but likewise the motherly care of woman.

At this point the lines intersect. If on the one hand the creature refuses to co-operate with the Redemption, it has on the other hand usurped Redemption. The faith in self-redemption as man’s belief in his own creative powers is the specifically masculine madness of our secularised age and is at the same time the explanation of all its failures. Nowhere is the creature a redeemer, but it should be a co-operator in the work of redemption. Creative power can only be received, and the man also must conceive the creative spirit in the sign of Mary, in humility and surrender, or he will not receive it at all.

In its stead he will admit again and again only the spirit, to use Goethe’s words, “that he comprehends” and which in the final analysis, can comprehend nothing; for the world may indeed be moved by the strength of the man, but blessed, in the true sense of the word, it will only be with the sign of the woman. 
Baroness Gertrud von Le Fort

Without a proper attitude to creative power, as something received, which we need to conform ourselves to, we become barren or producers of monsters. On the one hand as von Le Fort says, we refuse to co-operate with the Redemption, on the other we usurp Redemption. The refusal, the negative ‘feminine’ attitude is ultimately a rejection of the sacred, of all hierarchy or transcendence. It is the self-willed materialism of modern secular liberalism.

The other negative attitude, the ‘masculine’ one, is the usurpation of divinity. The ‘taking heaven by storm’; the elevation of the individual and the ego above all else, is the epitome of the modern atomistic and capitalist technocracy which seeks to enthrone instrumental reason as the highest god. 

Both of these attitudes can express themselves at almost opposite ends of the political spectrum (think Randian crony-capitalism on one end against secular Marxist liberal-leftism at the other), and yet both are the result of the same blind forces manifested in history. Mythically, they are the fruits of the ‘No’ to God of the first Man and Woman. Historically, they are the fruits of countless individual choices, but which have manifested in the West most obviously as the various revolutions which followed in the wake of the Reformation. 

We are not interested here in revolution, which is nothing more than the promise of the serpent in history. Revolution carries away the individual in a tide. It excites and stimulates, electrifies, and ultimately loosens all bonds. The Counter-Revolution does no such carrying-away. It persuades with the still small voice of truth, and the humble efforts of love.  The Counter-Revolutionary has no other weapons at his disposal than that of prayer, tradition, and humilty. He must resist the current, but he must do this only as corollary to the main impulse of conforming himself to the truth in love.

It has often struck me that the phrase Our Lady used in the apparitions at Fatima “Russia will spread its errors throughout the world” has, if seen in the powerful errors which underlie the philosophy of Marxism and that of liberalism, a deeply disturbing resonance 100 years later. As James Schall says here: 

Modern liberalism seeks, at every essential element of what-it-means-to-be-a-human-being, to substitute desire for reason to explain what a person is. A more extensive version of the same point is as follows: “[Liberalism] is a myth successfully propagated by social and political authorities to conceal their imposition of a distinct set of goods that undermine the traditional Western ethos. Liberalism is not a coherent philosophy but a collection of causes advanced under the rubric of personal liberty (Hegel’s subjective freedom) by powerful social and political interests.” The oft-repeated witticism, “scratch a liberal and you will find a totalitarian,” is rooted in the intellectual failure of liberalism to be able to justify its own premises of a desire-based explanation of human action. In the end, it always must resort to an authority itself based on arbitrary desire, not reason.

This substitution is exactly that spoken of above. It is the refusal or the usurpation of Redemption, the substitution of the promise of the serpent for the promise of the virgin. We resist it, with the help of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, just as those who marched in the Pilgrimage of Grace against the destruction wrought by Henry VIII marched under the banner of the Five Wounds of Jesus.

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Much food for thought here. Strat sowed many seeds, and Second Spring are still cultivating them – I hope to write more soon on some of his legacy


Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child.

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Bringer of Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Marian Option recently, and particularly Michael Martin’s own take on it, the Sophia Option. He really deepened the whole thing for me and opened it up on different levels. Firstly with his inspiring video on what he calls the ‘agapeic’ approach to hermeneutics, in which we drop our torture instruments and allow poetry, art, nature not just to reveal their own shining truth to us, but make sure our response is an openness to the gift – how willing are we to really receive the world as God intends it, as gift? 

At the weekend I walked to various ‘numinous’ places in my locale – streams, churches, hedgerows on unused lanes between fields, and tried to receive these places as gift. I did my best to be humble – of the humus, the leaf-mould- I got down by the earth and sketched or listened, and I placed small cards with Marian images (Miraculous Medal of Mary prayer cards) at these locations. I recalled Mary’s words that she told the shepherd children at Fatima – ‘Kiss the earth in penance for sinners’. I – feeling silly- kissed the earth. Why did I do these slightly embarrassing and ultimately pointless things? I don’t really know. Something in me can still remember the sense of awe and mystery I felt as a child walking in similar places, perhaps, like a child I wanted to please my Heavenly Father.

For the full effect visit my short video of one of the cards in place: ​
Why did I leave the cards at these places?  To me the cards are like a rural ‘tag’. A tag in a city is found in an area which someone has claimed as their ‘ends’ and sprayed or put on in marker pen. Tags are meant to stake out territory. My tags are meant to function in the opposite way. I want them to say ‘this area isn’t mine, I don’t own it, and I want to be open to it as gift’. If someone were to take the card away and ponder its meaning in the location that would be great and perfectly in keeping with the spirit of what I have done. I want the act of leaving the card and the act of others seeing it in that place to be an act of ‘guerilla Sophiology’ – an assault on our washed-out and automatic ways of perceiving the world, which might make us see things we have grown used to with fresh eyes. Catherine Pickstock has lots to say on this in her book ‘Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians’. 

Secondly, something struck me in Michael’s blog post when he said we need to be like Mary Magdalene, rushing out with joy and telling others the Good News – we need to be in the Resurrection business. I was praying the second joyful mystery – the Visitation. In this we contemplate Our Lady as ‘bringer of joy’ not only to John who leapt in the womb of Elizabeth, but to Elizabeth and ultimately to us as she both hides and reveals the mystery that is within her, the Logos.

As I prayed the decade I realised that the statue I was praying to at that moment was of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared as a pregnant mestiza girl first to Juan (note the echo of John) Diego and then to the Mexican people, who converted in their millions, full of the Joy that Mary brought. If the Sophia Option or the Marian Option mean anything, they mean this kind of attitude, that of Juan Diego, joyfully attending to the mystery that Our Lady brings, his tilma full of her heavenly flowers.

Our Lady of Fatima versus the Freemasons

It appears from the articles here and here that tomorrow Saturday 18th February two ceremonies will be happening simultaneously in two of the chief Christian places of worship in this land. In Canterbury Cathedral a celebration of 300 years of Freemasonry will be happening, and in Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic Church in England will be led by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in the consecration of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to celebrate 100 years since the apparitions of Our Lady in Portugal.

My own particular take on this, as you will probably guess from reading this blog, is that we are contending in this age with an ever-growing spiritual threat of evil, as this advice from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us: 

Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God).

By all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the spirit; and in the same watching with all instance and supplication for all the saints: And for me, that speech may be given me, that I may open my mouth with confidence, to make known the mystery of the gospel. 
As Christians we should never underestimate the power or cunning of these spirits of wickedness in high places. They have been planning this for long ages. What we can do, as St. Paul says, is to pray, and gird ourselves with the armour of God. And one of our chief weapons in this battle is the Rosary as Our Lady of Fatima reminds us. I want to say a bit more about what we can do, and I mean in a very practical sense what we can do tomorrow to counter this Masonic ceremony and lend our prayers to Our Lady. To do this I will need to briefly explain what I believe the Masonic ceremony and Freemasonry in general is attempting to do. 

The essence of Freemasonry, as I have implied, is disobedience. It is a very subtle disobedience, but nonetheless, it is at its heart. Freemasonry sets up a deist God at its heart in place of the Trinity, and attempts to become God. This is not theosis or deification of Catholic or Orthodox Christianity, which is a process totally dependent on God’s grace, but the active building of a being with eternal life, possessed of all knowledge – in other words the fulfilment of the promise of the serpent. 

Pope Leo XIII makes this clear here: 

The race of man, after its miserable fall from God, the Creator and the Giver of heavenly gifts, “through the envy of the devil,” separated into two diverse and opposite parts, of which the one steadfastly contends for truth and virtue, the other of those things which are contrary to virtue and to truth. The one is the kingdom of God on earth, namely, the true Church of Jesus Christ; and those who desire from their heart to be united with it, so as to gain salvation, must of necessity serve God and His only-begotten Son with their whole mind and with an entire will. The other is the kingdom of Satan, in whose possession and control are all whosoever follow the fatal example of their leader and of our first parents, those who refuse to obey the divine and eternal law, and who have many aims of their own in contempt of God, and many aims also against God…. At every period of time each has been in conflict with the other, with a variety and multiplicity of weapons and of warfare, although not always with equal ardour and assault. At this period, however, the partisans of evil seems to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organized and widespread association called the Freemasons.

Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents and gentle as doves’. Some of have followed only the path of the serpent, and have forgotten the way of the dove, of the purity of Our Lady.

To finish I want to suggest some simple things we can do tomorrow as the ceremonies go on:

1. Go to the ceremony at Westminster Cathedral and participate in that. Pray and ask for the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

2. If you cannot attend that, go to your nearest Catholic church, preferably to the Lady Chapel, and say a rosary, or a decade of the rosary there, asking particularly for the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

3. If that is not possible, use any small statue or image you have of Mary at home and set aside 10 minutes or so to say a rosary again as above.

You should attempt to do this at 2pm, the same time as the crowning of the statue of Our Lady. I will be going to the local shrine of Our Lady and praying there. Please share this with other Catholics – our prayers together will be powerful.

Anglicanism vs the Immaculate Heart

Fatima and Our Lady’s Dowry



The ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ has let out Canterbury Cathedral to the Masons to perform their blasphemies at the same moment as the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster will be Consecrating England to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

O Immaculate Virgin Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Mother of Grace,
and Queen of the kingdom of thy Son,
humbly kneeling before thee,
we offer thee this country in which we live.
It once was thine.
Before it was robbed of the holy Faith
all its children were thy children,
and thou wast honoured throughout its length and breadth
as its Protectress and its Queen.
Again do we consecrate it to thee;
again do we dedicate it as thine own Dowry.
We offer our own hearts,
that their love and service
may ever grow and increase.
We offer all our brethren
those multitudes who know thee so little
or know thee not…

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Anglo-Catholic musings at St. Mary’s, Kettlebaston

For the image above and many others please go to this link : 

Today another impromptu pilgrimage came about. I am lucky here, as I have mentioned previously, to be nestled deep in the heart of rural Suffolk with a wealth of fantastic medieval churches within walking distance. Some of the gems include St. Mary’s, Brent Eleigh; St. Mary’s, Preston St. Mary; St. Mary’s, Kettlebaston – yes lots of Marys! – all within 3 miles walk from my door.

It is really exciting when I have a rare morning or day free to stride out with a sketch book along the lanes in search of these churches. Beyond any historical interest they have, for me is a deeper motive – to pay homage to Mary by visiting places where she would once have been honoured. One simple way is to visit churches dedicated to her.

Why visit places of devotion to Mary? As I have put in a previous post, it is part of my own love of Mary as the mother of Christ, which has grown as my Catholic faith has deepened. But more specifically, it is also part of a conscious decision to try and live my faith in a more active way, my way of interpreting something that’s been called the Marian Option. This is quite exciting for me, as the Marian Option as I see it is partly a calling for artists.

For instance, in her post on the Marian Option, Carrie Gress says :

“The Marian Option, unlike the Benedict Option, doesn’t generally require anything drastic, like significant changes in one’s community, occupation, or location (although she may inspire you to do these later). What it does require is simply the full and active recognition that she is our mother and, therefore, a tremendous advocate of grace, protection, conversions, and victories through the rosary. Devotion to her, however, has the added benefit, like the Benedict Option, of renewing culture. Art, architecture, sculpture, music, poetry, liturgy, and learning have all been greatly inspired by her over the centuries.”

Whilst architecture and music are beyond my creative powers, I have some kind of interest and dabble to some extent in those other cultural activities! And as a dabbler in art, I am interested in breaking down the barriers between art, crafts and work through a re-sacralisation  of all activity. Why do I want to do this?

We are living in a deracinated age, and thus an age of dryness and sterility, brought on by a polarisation of reason and appetite. The artist’s task in these times, I believe, is to create works which can bridge this gap in ways that science, philosophy or ethics cannot. It is an urgent task. People talk of a ‘polarisation’ happening in the political sphere as well, where people just want to shut down the other.

When you can, with a little knowledge, enter into a place that contains within it art that has managed to a varying degree to still show evidence of Marian devotion, then you are seeing, I believe, a signpost pointing the way to bridging that gap. Mary is the great guarantor of a fecund and life-affirming culture.

It is thrilling, for instance, to uncover any reference to the Feast of the Assumption, which occurs at the height of harvest and was such a widespread and popular devotion of medieval England, but which was particularly frowned upon by the Protestant reformers for its supposedly unscriptural nature and its tinge of ‘mariolatry’. So to discover, as at the font in St. Matthew’s, Ipswich, an image of the Assumption of Mary can be a genuinely shocking experience, almost as if one were looking at a sheela-na-gig in reverse.

I have already mentioned in a previous post the Shrine of Our Lady of Sudbury and Her association with this feast. I have also mentioned how important I believe it is where possible to try and reinstate processions on this feast day, and I have tried to do these pilgrimages consciously dedicated to this re-sacralisation. Others make their own way on similar paths. Look at what Michael Martin says here, or Roger Buck here for instance.

The common thread here is a search for a way of combatting the gnosticism and world-denying nature of our current technocratic secular age. A rediscovery of Maria-Sophia, and a mystagogic element to the faith.

For us English Catholics I believe we should be working and praying for England to be once again known and accepted as Our Lady’s Dowry. Our Lady is archstrategist, and directs us to confront head on the errors of modernity, of the culture of death.


Our Love for Mary

“Our love for Mary is one with our love for beauty and goodness, of interior peace and measured wisdom, of flowers and mountains and green valleys and the deep ocean, of stars and the happiest moments of human life, the kindness of friends and the love of family and the bliss of lovers. Nothing of our earthly life will be lost, because Mary treasures all things in her immaculate heart.” – Stratford Caldecott.


Our Lady of Grace, Ipswich

The pilgrimage you don’t know you’re on until you get there is the best kind! Yesterday I made a journey for entirely mundane reasons, only to realise I had ended up in the exact place that I had been wanting to make the object of a pilgrimage for a long time.

Bear with me on this post – it does sound a bit like the sort of thing Alan Partridge might tell his PA Lynn!

Yesterday was a difficult day for my wife Lisa. Our daughter Lucia had been awake in the night and whilst I had slept in the spare room because I had work the next morning, Lisa was awake most of the night with Lucia. Consequently when I got home in the early afternoon, Lisa was very much in need of a break!

I took Lucia out for a drive to give her mum some space and in the hope that she would have a nap, which she did. I had a vague plan to go to a retail park and have a look around the John Lewis department store there. As I drove with the little one asleep in the back I realised I didn’t really know the way to this store; I knew I had to go on the ring road around Ipswich, but not much more than that. Anyway, I obviously missed the turning, as I ended up driving into the centre of Ipswich. Not having done this before, I drove aimlessly along in the mid-afternoon traffic, with a vague idea that I would park somewhere near the town centre, and wait for my daughter to wake up before doing a bit of shopping.

So far, so Alan Partridge. But actually, the mundanity of the journey is a key part of its importance for me. The Marian Option is about, or one of the key things about it is, that we don’t need to retreat from public spaces, from the everyday, or form communities away from mainstream society – in fact it is about an inner change of attitude which can transform your relationship to the everyday.

When the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego she clothed herself in the customs and garb of the culture. She appeared as a young Mestiza woman, not as an impersonal supernatural being, and she evangelised that culture at a rate not seen before or since. We need to be like the Virgin of Guadalupe, bringing Christ to our culture, preserving the best aspects and building on that basis, but not imposing something alien on it. Grace building on nature.


Philosophically, this may pose difficulties. If Rene Guenon and others are right, then we in the West are so far along the ‘Kali Yuga’ that there is very little in the culture that is not corrupt. The ‘Reign of Quantity’ is almost total. In other words, the modern world has as a fundamental principle the reduction of all phenomena to the quantitative, and everything is to be understood in this light. For example Guenon says:

“the profane sciences of which the modern world is so proud are really and truly only the degenerate ‘residues’ of the ancient traditional sciences, just as quantity itself, to which they strive to reduce everything, is, when considered from their special point of view, no more than the ‘residue’ of an existence emptied of everything that constituted its essence; thus these pretended sciences, by leaving aside or even intentionally eliminating all that is truly essential, clearly prove themselves incapable of furnishing the explanation of anything whatsoever. “

Faced with such a mindset which has pervaded the entire modern world, even into the sanctuaries of its temples, would it not be best to abjure all contact with modern culture and do what some say the ‘Benedict Option’ is all about – ride out the storm in enclosed communities, preserving what is True, Good and Beautiful and saving it for a future world?

This smacks slightly of Gnosticism to me. Understood correctly, Christ’s mission was about giving to the man in the street what before he could only get in the Temple – and that is bound to involve getting your hands dirty.

Anyway, I decided to park up in the first car park I found in the town centre, which was called The Spiral. It is an unusual one in that it winds down underground, with cars parked on either side of one spiralling tunnel. I parked and waited for Lucia to wake up. As I sat with nothing to occupy me, I began to pray a rosary, and with the beads passing through my hands, and my thoughts focused on the sorrowful mysteries, my mind began to enter a contemplative mode.

I realised that I had passed the classic mythological threshold of adventure and peril – the descent into the earth. Maybe Dante didn’t have in mind the entrance to the inferno in a car park in East Anglia, but you have to make do with what you have sometimes.

Of course, Dante had his guide Virgil to lead him through the danger, and I had my guide, the Blessed Mother to aid me as I began my daily effort at battling my vices with the graces obtained from that most powerful of prayers.

At the back of my mind I was also aware of something else that I had wanted to do for the last few months, ever since my imagination was fired by reading about the Marian shrines of East Anglia – and that is to visit the site in Ipswich of an important medieval shrine to Mary on Lady Lane. I wondered if it might be within walking distance.

The shrine of Our Lady of Grace was a very popular medieval shrine, second only in popularity to Walsingham. The first recorded mention of it is from 1152. Ipswich was the only Marian shrine in England dedicated to Our Lady of Grace. The story of this particular shrine is also unusual for it may be that the statue of the Virgin and Child still survives in Italy, unlike most of the other English medieval shrine statues.

When I finished my rosary I had a look at the map. The Spiral appeared to be almost directly underneath Lady Lane! When Lucia woke I put her in the buggy and ascended, crossing another car park above ground and, there it was; Lady Lane.

The lane runs between discount stores, and is entirely devoid of any Marian shrine now, unfortunately. However, the statue and plaque are there to indicate where the shrine once was. I bent down to show Lucia the statue; she pointed and said ‘Mary and Jesus!’. I said a quick Hail Mary and thanked Our Lady for her mediation of God’s grace. Amidst the difficulties and strains of life I am often guilty of rushing past the sacred spaces of my life, or of just paying them lip-service. Forgetting all the ways God’s grace blesses me, or believing that I can somehow merit it. This surprise pilgrimage was a reminder that all the good things in my life have come unbidden – the best I can do is make myself worthy to receive them.

So it is possible to still feel something of a Marian presence, in this alleyway, under a statue ignored as most people rush by to shop. That shouldn’t really be the case I suppose, certainly it takes a stretch of the imagination to think of the medieval street and the shrine which held royal weddings, and was visited by , to name a few, Henry VIII, Wolsey and Thomas More. But knowing the story behind the statue and the plaque helps a lot to counter the brutalist surroundings. They occupy some small piece of space not under ownership by private interests for commercial reasons, like their surroundings, but are signs, reminders of the sacred that makes possible secular space.

It seems to me the Marian Option is asking us not to withdraw from places like shopping centres and high streets, but to quietly, subversively manifest our faith in small ways. Catholics are capable of being counter-cultural witnesses in public spaces entirely given over to consumerism, in times of global homogenisation of cultures, and destruction of local identities. We can validly challenge a culture of death, individualism and neo-liberalism. How?

This website has some hints:

It is hard for us to understand today the part that Mary played in the medieval economy of grace. Contrary to popular belief, there is considerable (and growing) evidence that the people of rural medieval England had an articulate and sophisticated understanding of the nature and purposes of intercessionary prayer. Although there may have been abuses, when people, in some sense, offered ‘worship’ to images of the Madonna, this was not a general practice, or even a common one. Mary was seen as a focus of prayer; contemporary images of medieval people frequently show them carrying their rosary beads.
To have some understanding of the role of Our Lady in the hearts and minds of medieval Suffolkers, we need to look at the church in southern Europe today.

The spectacular processions, the colourful images, the celebrations and devotions would all have been a part of medieval Suffolk life. Fundamentally, the people of medieval Suffolk, in all their daily trials and tribulations, in the midst of their suffering and expectation of an early death, saw Mary as being on their side.

Churches could certainly quite easily reinstate the Marian processions with all their colour and festivity. In my parish church in Sudbury until quite recently the Harvest procession in August had been reinstated, with the statue of the Madonna and Child being carried around the town in August.

Another way might be ‘Rosary Gardens’ – the Rosary Garden Project show “how to promote prayer and inspire communities to transform outdoor open areas into sacred spaces for social engagement, religious education and prayer. Each stone in a Rosary Garden represents a bead (or prayer) and is designed for walking meditation, contemplative prayer and as a teaching tool for children.”. How great would it be if some more spaces like this could be created in town centres?


Finally, I should mention the original statue, which some believe to be the one pictured above. The story is here:

“In the Italian city of Nettuno, most famous perhaps for its harbour of Anzio, there is a shrine to Our Lady of Grace. There is a story that the image there was brought to Nettuno from England during the Jubilee year of 1550. There is some evidence in the town archives to support this. And the town archives also mention Ipswich.
It wouldn’t be that improbable. Western mainland Europe is full of statues and sculptures produced in England during the 12th and 13th centuries. Many of them must have been exported at the time; Nottingham alabaster work, for instance, was greatly prized throughout Europe. But much probably went abroad at the time of the Reformation.

It must be remembered that the Reformation in England placed quite a low priority on the new teachings of Luther and Calvin; they were the job of the theologians. But the state, which enforced the Reformation in England, was more concerned with wresting political power from the church, and enriching itself on the wealth of the churches, shrines and monasteries.

It achieved both of these goals extremely successfully; the first is shown by the fact that there was no religious war in this country, and the second by the fact that the Tudor royal family amassed riches beyond its wildest dreams, much of it to be squandered by Elizabeth I and James I on high living and piratical expeditions to the ‘New World’.

There was no evangelical agenda on behalf of the English state as there would be 100 years later under Oliver Cromwell. It is hard to imagine William Dowsing selling images abroad, but there is a great amount of circumstantial evidence that the cronies of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer in the 1530s and 1540s did exactly this. It was a pragmatic approach; they wanted rid of images, and they wanted to accrue the wealth of the church.

That said, the Nettuno legend records that the statue was rescued from the flames by secretly Catholic sailors, who spirited it safely abroad. I think the sales story outlined above is more likely, though.

The Nettuno image was identified as English as early as 1938 by an historian of 13th century iconography, Martin Gillett. He felt that considerable changes had been made to it; Mary’s head had been replaced, and the posture of the infant Christ changed. The throne (no longer in existence) was a 19th century replacement. But the folds in the material, the features of the Christ child, the position of the infant on the right knee rather than the left, and the carving style, all strongly suggest an English origin.”

There, slightly more interesting than one of Alan Partridge’s monologues I hope.

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