After returning from Australia I knew that I should visit Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham. The Youth2000 Prayer Festival, towards the end of August, afforded me an opportunity. The welcome which I received there from some many young people who knew me was tremendous; a sign of a much greater welcome which I received in the Slipper Chapel itself.
I pay tribute here to the Youth2000 team for the slick way in which they ran the event, and also for the large number of new comers who they attracted to this summer's Festival. It was also very good to encounter a number of representatives of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who were taking part in the event.
One evening during the Festival I was poking around the village and came upon Martyrs Field (photo above) for the first time. This field is just beyond the old railway track and near the Orthodox chapel in Little Walsingham Village. I have long known the story of the 'Walsingham Plot', but have never before visited the field.
The 'Walsingham Plot' took place just before the dissolution of the Augustinian Priory and the destruction of the Holy House. The plot, which began in November 1536, eventually drew in about thirty conspiritors. They planned to raise the people of north Norfolk, in the same way that the people of Lincolnshire had risen, and in conjunction with the much greater 'Pilgrimage of Grace', and then to muster the larger part of East Anglia so as to challenge the reforming policies of Henry VIII. The conspiracy was leaked to London and within days most of the conspiritors had been arrested and taken to Norwich for trial. Twelve of these were sentenced to death, some to be hung, others to be hung, drawn and quartered. Two of them were brought back to Walsingham to be executed; Canon Nicholas Mileham, the sub-prior of Walsingham Priory, and George Guisborough, a yeoman and chorister of Walsingham village. On Wednesday 30th April 1537 both men were hung, drawn and quartered just outside the village in what is now known as 'Martyrs Field'. Their heads were then placed on the Priory Gatehouse.
Today, an altar stands in the middle of the field - just discernible in the middle of my photo. The cause and the grievances of these man were crushed, as were their lives and the great Shrine of Our Lady. Even so, the naming of the field, and the erection of a simple altar, recognise the greatness of faith in the midst of such foul tyrrany. These two men died before the wrecking of the Shrine; the remaining members of the Augustinian community accepted the dissolution of their priory in the summer of 1538, and witnessed the removal of the statue of Our Lady in July of that year. It was taken to London and, by the end of the month, together with many others, it was burnt in Chelsea in the presence of Thomas Cromwell.
Long may the memory of these men remain. The field is today a farmer's field and sheep were grazing there on the day I visited it. But you can easily find the field and peer through from the road and pathways which surround it. But keep visiting the Slipper Chapel for,according to the 'vision' of Pope Leo XIII, when England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.