Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cromwell's Bonfire and Our Lady of Walsingham

Did the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham survive Thomas Cromwell's bonfire?

There's a story in The Catholic Herald suggesting that a statue identified as "Virgin and Child" and also called the  Langham Virgin in the Victoria and Albert Museum could be the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The co-author of that article, Dr. Francis Young, writes on his own blog:

We are fortunate to have a fairly detailed image of this statue, which was depicted on the seal of Walsingham Priory – although we have no way of knowing how accurate the seal’s depiction was. What can be said, however, is that what remains of the Langham Madonna is strikingly similar to the seal image. This similarity on its own, of course, is not enough to show that the Langham statue is Our Lady of Walsingham – it could be a copy of the famous statue, or just an image of a similar type from a time when portrayals of the Virgin enthroned were popular in English religious art. There are, however, good reasons to believe the Langham statue could be the famous Walsingham image – partly because it can now be shown that the provenance of the Langham Madonna was inaccurately recorded when the statue was purchased by the V&A, and partly because the statue bears physical signs of traits apparently unique to the image of Our Lady of Walsingham. The details of these arguments can be found in the original article.

Young refers to the "provenance" of the statue being inaccurately recorded: instead of what the V&A states ("Said to have come from Langham church, near Colchester, Essex"), it may have come from the Langham church near Walsingham, Norfolk. As he and Father Michael Rear wrote in The Catholic Herald article, this is not a new idea:

Confirmation of the likely error comes in a letter to the Tablet of July 25, 1931 from the Anglican priest Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton:
Recently there was discovered in an old house near Walsingham, and sold, an old wooden carved figure apparently of the 12th century which almost without any doubt is a copy of the Walsingham Image, or even, may we think? the original, saved perhaps as other relics and holy things, by means of substitution being made for the purposes of satisfying the desecrators.
Langham in Norfolk is only six miles from Walsingham. The vicar of Langham, John Grigby, was arrested in 1537 for his part in the “Walsingham Conspiracy” of Catholics who resisted the destruction of the Shrine. Langham Hall was the home of the Calthorpe family, who became notable recusants, and was inherited in 1555 by the Catholic Rookwood family of Euston, Suffolk. Although the present Langham Hall dates only from the 1820s, Langham Hall in Essex is not much older. It was built between 1756 and 1772.


British History Online provides some details about the "Walsingham Conspiracy" of 1537 although John Grigby is not mentioned:

The priory of Walsingham had a special hold on Norfolk, even in places far remote from the town. The concourse of pilgrims from all parts of England, as well as from over the seas, kept Our Lady of Walsingham vividly in mind. . . .

No wonder, then, that the suppression of the lesser monasteries in 1536, and the general upheaval of matters pertaining to the ancient faith of the populace, should have aroused much bitterness with regard to the threats against Walsingham. In April, 1537, depositions were taken before Sir Roger Townsend and Sir John Heydon against George Gysburgh, of Walsingham, charged with expressing regret that so many houses were dissolved where God was well served, and advocating a rising of the commons. George Gysburgh confessed to discussing with one, Ralph Rogerson, a rising against the suppression of the abbeys, believing that Walsingham would soon go. (fn. 45) On 3 May, Sir Roger Townsend and Richard; South well wrote to Cromwell as to the apprehension of the rest of the 'conspirators.' They had seized Nicholas Mileham, sub-prior of Walsingham, who by the confession of one, Watson, was privy to the proposals; they thought that the Gysburghs (father and son) and Ralph Rogers would make a larger confession if examined by Cromwell and others of- the council, for in their confession, so far, they did not touch the sub-prior, a man of lewd inclination. (fn. 46) On 20 May, Prior Vowell, the time-server, wrote an unctuous letter to Cromwell thanking him for favour shown to him and to his kinsman taken into the Lord Privy Seal's service; with the letter he sent 'a poor remembrance' as a further bribe to Cromwell. (fn. 47) Cromwell's accounts show that this poor remembrance was the big round sum of £100. (fn. 48)

The charge against these 'conspirators' was somewhat flimsily sustained, and their offence had certainly not gone beyond words, but the punishment was awful and speedy. On 24 May, 1537, a special commission sitting at Norwich Castle condemned no fewer than eleven of the accused to be drawn, hung, beheaded, and quartered for high treason. The executions took place in different parts of the county, so as to arouse more terror. On Saturday, 26 May, Ralph Rogerson and four others were executed at Norwich; on 28 May, two more were executed at Yarmouth; on Wednesday, 30 May, Sub-Prior Nicholas Mileham and George Gysburgh perished on the scaffold at Walsingham; and on 1 June the young William Gysburgh and John Pecock, a Carmelite friar, suffered at Lynn. Several others, including two clergy, were condemned to life imprisonment.


There is, however, an entry for the pardon John Grigby received later in 1537, in BHO's Letters and Papers of Henry VIII:

38. Will. Gybson, of Burneham, Norf., clk., Carmelite friar and co-brother of John prior of Burneham, Ric. Malyot alias Maryot, of Welles, Norf., yeoman alias mariner, John Grygeby or Greggby, of Langham, Norf., clk., rector of the parish church of Langham, Thos. Penny, of Houghton near Walsingham, husbandman, John Puntte or Punte, rector of Waterden, Norf., Rob. Hawker orHauker, of Walsingham alias of Walsingham Parva, Norf., butcher, and Will. Yonger of Walsingham alias of Feltwell, Norf., clk. Pardon of all treasons, rebellions, &c. committed by them before the 1st Aug. last. Del. Westm., 27 Nov. 29 Hen. VIII.—S.B. Pat. p. 1, m. 27.


Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are turned to 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!


But with the restoration of the shrine in the 20th century and the Dowry Tour concluding with the rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary in 2020--and now the possibility that the original statute of Our Lady of Walsingham survived--the victorious gloatings of Latimer, Husee, and Melancthon ring hollow:

Bishop Latimer wrote a jocular letter to Cromwell in June, 1538, suggesting the burning of the image of the virgin of Walsingham and others: 'they would make a joly mustere in Smythfeld.' (fn. 56) John Husee, writing to Lord Lisle, on 18 June, also attempted to be witty on the same subject:
This day our late lady of Walsingham was brought to Lambithe (Lambeth), where was both my Lord Chancellor and my Lord Privy Seal with many virtuous prelates, but there was offered neither oblation nor candle. What shall become of her is not determined. (fn. 57)
Melancthon, on 1 November of the same year, exulted in the overthrow of the image of 'Mary by the Sea.' (fn. 58)

Among the Lady Day accounts of 1538 the usual payments were made for the king's candle, and to the king's priest who sang before Our Lady at Walsingham. But when the Michaelmas payments came round the entry runs:

'For the king's candle before Our Lady of Walsingham, and to the prior there for his salary, nil.' (fn. 59)
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us!

Holy Martyrs of the English Reformation, pray for us!

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