Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Lament for Our Lady of Walsingham

When I discussed the English Reformation and the revival of Catholicism in England with Al Kresta on February 28, I mentioned that the new Ordinariate's name, Our Lady of Walsingham, could not be more appropriate. Our Lady of Walsingham was a very popular pilgrimage site--Henry VIII visited it himself--destroyed during Henry's reign. The Guardian posted this lament for the shrine, written to mark its destruction.

As the blog article sets the stage for the poem:

"A Lament for Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham" is not a narrative poem, except in glimpses of older, happier scenes. Their recollection underlines the sharp contrast with the present. The ballad works primarily by antithesis: tall, glittering towers now lying level with the ground, toads and serpents instead of pilgrims (palmers), nights instead of days, holy deeds turned to outrages (despites), hell instead of heaven. The ballad seems to be a work of literary craftsmanship, and it is sometimes attributed to the Earl of Arundel, Philip Howard. There is a strong impression that the speaker really witnessed, or wants to demonstrate he has really witnessed, the various scenes, and the description of former glory and present devastation is to some extent documentary."

A Lament for Our Lady's Shrine at Walsingham

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be my guide and muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.

Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.

Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.

Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.

Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.

Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.

Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.

Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway --
Walsingham, O farewell!

There are now two shrines of Our Lady of Walsingham, one Catholic, one Anglican (from the latter came three nuns who joined the Catholic Church on January 1, 2011), a shrine to Our Lady planned in Houston, Texas in the USA, and now the growing Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, so perhaps we can say, --Walsingham, Welcome Back!

Here is a link to a ballad describing the founding of the shrine.


  1. The Shrine in Houston, Texas is my parish!

  2. That is a beautiful lament. I have been saving a version of it thinking it would be unheard of...but your post is so very good, I am delighted that you have given it exposure.
    Many thanks (I shall save mine for later in the year).

  3. Thank you, Richard! I wonder if St. Philip Howard wrote it, as the article comments it is sometimes attributed to him.