Adam and Eve Day: Christmas Eve

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve


According to the Bible’s Book of Genesis, God created the first man and woman and invited them to live in a heavenly place called the Garden of Eden. This couple, known as Adam and Eve, lived there in bliss until they took the advice of a serpent and disobeyed God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As punishment for their disobedience, God expelled them from the Garden, thus compelling them to work for their living, suffer pain, and eventually die. Medieval Christians honored Adam and Eve as the father and mother of all people and commemorated their story on December 24, the day before Christmas.

Eastern Christians, that is, those Christians whose traditions of belief and worship developed in the Middle East, eastern Europe, and north Africa, were the first to honor Adam and Eve as saints. Their cult spread from eastern lands to western Europe during the Middle Ages, becoming quite popular in Europe by the year 1000. Although the Roman Catholic Church never formally adopted the pair as saints, it did not oppose their veneration. Commemorating the lives of Adam and Eve on December 24 promoted comparison of Adam and Eve with Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Medieval theologians were fond of making such comparisons, the point of which was to reveal how Jesus and Mary, through their obedience to God’s will, rescued humanity from the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Indeed, the Bible itself refers to Jesus as the “second Adam” (Romans 5:14). Whereas humanity inherited biological life from the first Adam, it would imbibe spiritual life from Jesus, the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15: 22, 45, 49). Some theologians took this to mean that Jesus’ coming could restore humankind to a state of grace lost when Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden. In like manner, Mary would undo the effects of Eve’s disobedience. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary and delivered the message that she would bear a divine son, Mary replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, also Annunciation.) Medieval commentators relished the fact that in Latin, Eve’s name, Eva, read backwards spelled Ave, meaning“hail.” Ave Maria, or “Hail Mary” were the first words that the angel Gabriel spoke to the Virgin Mary. The spelling of these two shortwords seemed to them to symbolize God’s plan to reverse the consequences of Eve’s deed by bring a savior into the world through theVirgin Mary.

Medieval Christians celebrated Adam and Eve’s feast day with a kind of mystery play referred to as the paradise play. This little folk drama retold the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It ended with thepromise of the coming of a savior who would reconcile humanity with God. The paradise play was often staged around a single prop called a paradise tree. Actors adorned an evergreen tree with apples and sometimes also with communion wafers. Decked out in this way it served to represent the two mystical trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.Although the church officially banned the performance of mystery plays in the fifteenth century, the people of France and Germany’s Rhine river region kept on decorating paradise trees for Christmas. Some writers believe that the paradise tree evolved into what we now know as the Christmas tree. Indeed, as late as the nineteenth century people in some parts of Germany customarily placed figurines representing Adam, Eve, and the serpent under their Christmas trees. In some sections of Bavaria, people still hang apples upon their evergreens at Christmas time and refer to the decorated trees as paradise trees.

As the Middle Ages receded into history, so too did the western European feast of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve have retained a bit more of their ancient importance among certain Eastern Christians. The Greek Orthodox Church still honors Adam and Eve on the Sunday before Christmas.


Pilgrimage: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and The Dowry of England

Now, following my two solitary hours at St Seraphim’s,  I am ready, I am, as some would say “in the zone”. Preparation is important.  I wander down to the rebuilt present day Shrine and enter another world. The original shrine, house and Priory was destroyed in 1538 on the orders of Henry V111 and for four hundred years organised pilgrimage to Walsingham ceased. The position of that original shrine and house is now bare grass in the ruins of the Abbey Gardens and I have photos of that to come in later posts. It is there, that the original medieval pilgrims visited. Religious intolerance destroys more than it can ever create, a lesson we should remember. But I have no doubt that for the ordinary folk, especially women, the shrine even though it could not be seen as publicly acknowledged any longer, was still held in love and prayer and this was handed down and thus remembered through the long barrenness.  The Love was held in the hearts and minds of the people.

In the 12th century  Walsingham was the greatest shrine in the world in honour of Our Lady. It ranked among the four greatest shrines at Jerusalem, Rome and Compostela. At the time, the Seljuk Turks had seized control of the Holy Lands by violence. Christians found it virtually impossible to reach the hallowed places. Although the pilgrimage to Rome was seen as the most beneficial, it was much safer and simpler for royalty, nobles and ordinary folk to follow the `Walsingham Green Way’ and visit the national Shrine. Walsingham became so famous throughout the lowly hovels and majestic castles of Merry England that, according to the English Chronicler, Holinshead, practically everyone visited the shrine at least once in their lives.

A final pilgrim chapel was built along the Walsingham Road in 1340, a full mile from the Shrine. It was called the ‘Slipper Chapel’ and dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, the patroness of pilgrims. Her tomb lies in the monastery on Mount Sinai, within the Basilica of the Annunciation. Pilgrims would remove their shoes at the chapel and walk the Holy Mile of Walsingham barefoot. In this way, kings, nobles and ordinary folk entered England’s Nazareth to worship their heavenly King and Queen together with their subjects.

Pilgrims often visited a number of shrines en route to a principal shrine. Pilgrimages to Walsingham might include Bromholm Priory to see a relic of the Holy Cross, a visit to the anchorite Mother Julian in Norwich or St William’s shrine in Norwich Cathedral, St Edmund’s Shrine at Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, or St Etheldreda’s shrine in Ely Cathedral. Some of these, I shall be covering in future posts.

Just as the Shrine began with a wealthy woman, its restoration also began with another wealthy woman, Charlotte Boyd. In 1863, seventy-eight years after the Act of Emancipation in England, she took interest in the derelict wreck of the Slipper Chapel and was able to persuade the Lee Warner family to sell all they would give. She hired architects and masons from Cambridge to rebuild the chapel, and in 1894, converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, quickly afterward restoring it as a place of Roman Catholic devotion. She appointed it as a place ‘of prayer and penitence for unity in England’. Before she died in 1906, she donated it to the Benedictines of Downside abbey. They cared for it until 1934, when it was given to the Diocese of Northampton.

In 1931 the present day Anglican Shrine was established by Father Alfred Hope Patten. Although it is a modern copy, many of its features would have been familiar to medieval pilgrims. Father Patten, although a member of the Church of England, was part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. As such he believed that there was a continuity between the Pre-Reformation Church and the Church of England of his own day. He felt that there should be a return to the richness of worship, its ornamentation using colourful paintings and statues, the use of incense and most importantly in the honour given to the Virgin Mary and the Saints.

Charlotte Boyd’s efforts were the catalysts that re-established pilgrimages to Our Lady of Walsingham. Under the approval of the Pope in 1934, the bishops of England and Wales designated Walsingham as the National Shrine of Our Lady. Twenty years later, the papal delegate, Archbishop O’Hara, crowned the new statue of Our Lady before a crowd of tens of thousands.

Walsingham once again embraces thousands of pilgrims who journey from the farthest reaches of the earth to pray at the feet of Our Lady. The Shrine is full of memories of the olden days when Richard II gave England to Her as Her dowry in Westminster, 1381 AD, days when reigning Christendom was once nourished by the graces of the Queen of Heaven.

Interestingly a major rebellion to Henry V111’s power came because of the ordinary people’s devotions and love for their humble shrines. Although many people did feel that the monasteries especially had become excessively wealthy and that many priests and religious were in fact leading lives that were far from the rules they had undertaken…it was the people’s small shrines that they really mourned the loss of. Their small intimate shrines, the places in their local landscapes that had been sacred to them from times even Pre-Christian, the streams, caves, woods, and Saints resting places, the little household carved statues, the dust they had gathered from around a Saints tomb. When all was destroyed, they felt that part of them had been destroyed too. “We want our shrines” they said, and Henry V111 dismissed them as superstitious, simple and idolatrous. Perhaps he would have done well to remember what the Canterbury monks had to say back in 1470. “Of all nations,” the monks alleged, “the English are the most attached to old habits and traditional devotions, and they will not be easily deprived of them without great uproar.” The memory of the shrine was not easy to eradicate. Sir Roger wrote to Cromwell in 1564 that a woman of nearby Wells, declared that a miracle had been done by the image of Our Lady after it had been carried away to London to be burned.

But Henry’s  coffers were now filling up nicely and the last thing he would tolerate was dissent. His Reformation had allowed him to seize church land and property (a great help in financing costly European wars and funding an extravagant lifestyle.) Under Henry VIII, England witnessed the wholesale destruction of beautiful monastic buildings and libraries.  Hundreds if not thousands of people were slaughtered at his command, to induce fear and quell rebellious thought that could lead to riots, and whole communities were wiped out, hung from trees, men, women, children alike. This country has seen religious warfare and slaughter as much as any other in its bitter history of the Catholic/Protestant arguments.

Henry V111 had visited Walsingham many times, he was devoted to it in the first part of his reign. He made several pilgrimages, including one on January 19th 1511 with his wife Catherine of Aragon to give thanks for the birth of a short-lived son Prince Henry on New Years Day at which time he walked barefoot to the Shrine.  Later he presented a ‘magnificent collar of fine rubies’ to be hung about the image of the Virgin Mary. From 1509 to 1538, he paid for a ‘king’s candle’ to be kept burning there, and twice annually gave 100 shillings to William Haly, the ‘king’s priest’, to recite a Mass on his behalf. He also paid for a priest to sing at the Shrine, and for the windows of the Lady Chapel to be richly glazed by Barnard Flower, the royal glazier. He walked barefoot to the Shrine on another occasion from East Barsham Manor, further than any other pilgrims. His wife Catherine was a great devotee to the Shrine as well, herself paying many solitary visits, and latterly whilst her husband was involved with Anne Boleyn, especially to plead with the Virgin Mary to grant her a living son [and thus also save her marriage and her husbands movement against Catholicism]. Is it possible that Catherine also brought her beloved daughter Princess Mary here as a child?

When you first enter the Anglican Shrine by its West door the first thing one sees is the blue and white altarpiece of the Annunciation. This is the first of 15 events in the lives of Jesus and Mary which are commemorated in the Mysteries of the Rosary. Each of the altars in the 15 shrines celebrates one of these Mysteries. Pilgrims start here to focus their minds on the moment that the Christian journey began. All 15 chapels are dedicated to a Saint and a mystery of the rosary. Saints are important because they were ordinary people who went through certain experiences on earth and understand our feelings. When we see the statue of St Therese of Lisieux, in the courtyard garden, who lost her mother as a child, we may get comfort when we ourselves are grieving.

The Shrine Entrance


The Altarpiece of the Annunciation


The Holy Well was discovered during the construction of the Shrine in 1931. Pilgrims receive holy water in a service called Sprinkling. The priest offers a sip to drink, marks the sign of the cross on the pilgrims forehead and pours some into their hands.

The Holy Well


The Outside of House of Nazareth with rows of votive candles


Inside the House of Nazareth [Stock Photo]

 Inside the House of Nazareth

 Here below is the main Church and Altar


The Chapel of St Anne

The 4th Mystery: Presentation in the Temple

Chapel of St Anne Presentation in the Temple

During pilgrimage season (Easter-October), services are held multiple times each day in the Anglican Shrine Church. In addition, every Saturday and Wednesday evening, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham is carried in procession around the gardens. Finally, on Sunday afternoons, the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament carries a monstrance with the consecrated host, accompanied by pilgrims singing the Lauda Sion hymn.

The Anglican National Pilgrimage to Walsingham is held on the last Monday of May each year. At 11 am, the High Street is closed to traffic and the Shrine Church is locked. At noon, a Mass is held  in the Abbey Grounds. Since 2004 this has been followed by a  lunch interval from 1-2:30 pm, during which it is traditional to have a picnic in the abbey gardens. At 2:30 pm there is a sermon in the Abbey Grounds, followed by a procession.

Catholic Shrines and Chapels at Walsingham

The Catholic National Pilgrimage begins at the Slipper Chapel in the village of Houghton St Giles, then proceeds along the scenic “Holy Mile” to the Catholic church in Little Walsingham. The Slipper Chapel, located about a mile south of Walsingham in Houghton St Giles, is the primary Catholic shrine at Walsingham. Built in the 14th century, it is the only surviving pilgrim station of many that once marked the pilgrimage route. Its unusual name derives from the pilgrims who would remove their shoes here to walk the rest of the way to Walsingham barefoot. The  church was restored and reconsecrated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1938.

Also in 1938, the Chapel of the Holy Ghost was added to the church to provide more room for pilgrims. The small chapel contains votive candles and a fine modern mosaic by Anna Wyner called Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – Our Lady in the Midst of the Apostles (1988).

Next to the Slipper Chapel is the modern Chapel of Reconciliation.

The main Catholic site in the village of Walsingham  is the Church of the Annunciation (a.k.a. New Parish Church), dedicated in 2007. Made of brick and stone, it has a round sanctuary and the latest technology in renewable energy.

Photos of Anglican Shrine Walsingham, Orthodox Chapel and village (C) Stephanie 2012

Pilgrimage: Walsingham,The Village And Chapel of St Seraphim

After a wonderful breakfast I venture out to see the village first and my destination is also the beautiful little Orthodox Church. There is also an Orthodox chapel in the Shrine Church, the Orthodox presence in Our Lady of Walsingham’s Shrine is twinned with St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, for regular followers of this blog they will know this is where my dear Father Lazarus lives. So I wanted to go “on his behalf” too and say some prayers there. When we pray together anywhere in this world, notions such as distance and time are meaningless and irrelevant. We pray as One Body in Christ, ever present.

These are some photos of the village itself. The village of Little Walsingham is thought to be an early planned town with streets laid out on a grid during the 13th century [1200’s] in order to build accommodation and provide for increasing numbers of pilgrims. The original Saxon village had been clustered around the parish church, and now it shifted to the West of the Priory gatehouse.

The Priory Gatehouse


The Priory Gatehouse dates from about 1440, nearly 300 years into the life of the Priory. It would have provided very important security, the Shrines worldly riches were well known. The white timbered building is the original Porters Lodge, now used as the Abbey Garden Office. From this tiny house there is a narrow leaded squint, a window to the left of the arched entrance from the street side, through which the porter would have been able to inspect and challenge callers to the gate.

Views of the Village





Now having had a good walk round it is time for me to locate the little Orthodox Church, which is situated beside the railway line. It is known as The Chapel of St Seraphim, is open daily for private prayer, and that’s how I want to start, with private solitary prayer, away from the masses of pilgrims clustering around the local Shrine. I as a mystic always tend to yearn for silence and solitude, [although I can socialise and party alongside the best of ’em!] So that’s where I head. In this beautiful space with its glowing icons  created with such reverence and love, and warm red lamplight spend a peaceful two hours completely undisturbed. Now I am starting to sink deeply into the sacred, and I recognise that slight frisson that marks the presence, the threshold between the dimensions. I step across and am home.

The Chapel of St Seraphim:


And its beautiful Interior:




Walking back into the village from the Chapel


Photos (C) Stephanie 2012

To Be A Pilgrim: The Canterbury Tales

It is about a year ago that I took myself off on a “pilgrimage”, albeit an unintentional one. I had to visit Norfolk, where my elderly parents still live, as well as children and grandchildren. It is almost 600 miles away. The journey is not so much the destination in some senses, as the experiences of the process of the journey and to fully immerse oneself into that is to take a pilgrimage. Over the next posts I am going to explore pilgrimage to a much greater depth, both historically and socially and will use some of the many photographs I have taken to illustrate the various places I have been a pilgrim too. There are many I still wish to travel to, and many I have visited and wish to visit again. But for me, just as my mysticism is best described as Living In A Monastery Without Walls; so life can be described as a pilgrimage, this journey we take each day of our lives. Some places though do hold a special sacred attraction, and have done for hundreds of years. These communal spaces are ones which I will focus on to start with. Perhaps my first “Oh Wow” encounter took place when I was 13 and my parents took me on the “European Tour”. We covered about 8 countries over 2 weeks and the highlights were the Church of St Francis of Assisi, the artistic work of Giotto, Venice and Rome and the Vatican which utterly blew my socks off! Coming from a small rural village, near the city of Norwich which did not even have an art gallery, my brain was literally blown off with the artwork and architecture that I was witnessing. There I met for the first time, the works of Michelangelo, De Vinci, Botticelli, Donatello, Raphael, and Fra Angelico.  Nothing could compare with the Sistine Chapel for this young child/woman mystic…and I was to be totally hooked on Art and History for the rest of my natural life! So I would now like to bring some of this into my blog, influences that have enlarged me, expanded my appreciation of the sublime, given me aids to meditate and reflect upon and built tiny steps that aid us as we clamber to the heights of the passionate beauty of the Divine.

The first book written in English [we are taught, although this is not strictly true] was The Canterbury Tales, which all A level English Literature students here in the UK have had to study in part. It’s almost a rite of passage! When I studied it, we looked at “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.”  The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century. The tales are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return.

When we first come across studying this book nowadays, it is completely inaccessible to the modern mind and reader. The language itself is a major barrier, it is not easily read or understood. Then there is the whole concept of the medieval mind as to what pilgrimage meant for them in context, what they were doing, and what their religious beliefs were. Then, perhaps finally, set against todays growing secular society and especially to the average 16-18 year old, why on earth would these people want to do this anyway? In this way this work of literature matches the experience of pilgrimage itself strangely, as pilgrimage is itself, difficult to enter and absorb, and certainly to explain, it is as much an interior process as it is an exterior journey and one has to go deeper, to fully enter its hidden revelations. Pilgrimage never does what it says its going to, it never acquiesces to just conforming to  “what’s on the label”. It is much more complex than that.

No other work prior to Chaucer’s is known to have set a collection of tales within the framework of pilgrims on a pilgrimage. It is obvious, however, that Chaucer borrowed portions, sometimes very large portions, of his stories from earlier stories, and that his work was influenced by the general state of the literary world in which he lived. Storytelling was the main entertainment in England at the time, and storytelling contests had been around for hundreds of years. In 14th-century England the English Pui was a group with an appointed leader who would judge the songs of the group. The winner received a crown and as with the winner of the Canterbury Tales, a free dinner. It was common for pilgrims on a pilgrimage to have a chosen “master of ceremonies” to guide them and organize the journey. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio contains more parallels to the Canterbury Tales than any other work. Like the Tales, it features a number of narrators who tell stories along a journey they have undertaken (to flee from the Black Plague).

While the structure of the Tales is largely linear, with one story following another, it is also much more than that. In the General Prologue, Chaucer describes, not the tales to be told, but the people who will tell them, making it clear that structure will depend on the characters rather than a general theme or moral. This idea is reinforced when the Miller interrupts to tell his tale after the Knight has finished his. Having the Knight go first, gives one the idea that all will tell their stories by class, with the Knight going first, followed by the Monk, but the Miller’s interruption makes it clear that this structure will be abandoned in favour of a free and open exchange of stories among all classes present. General themes and points of view arise as tales are told which are responded to by other characters in their own tales, sometimes after a long lapse in which the theme has not been addressed. This again mimics the experience of pilgrimage. It is the people who one journeys with or meets, that are the key to the individual’s experience. It is this that ignites and opens one to the wholeness of it. On pilgrimage, people meet in a small fracture of time, and enter an almost womb like atmospheric consensus together, where secrets are told, tales recounted, in absolute anonymity. It is almost the ultimate sharing. Lastly, Chaucer does not pay much attention to the progress of the trip, to the time passing as the pilgrims travel, or specific locations along the way to Canterbury. His writing of the story seems focused primarily on the stories being told, and not on the pilgrimage itself. And it is these stories and journey and sharing which still today, make pilgrimage so rewarding and rich.

Before modern-day travel or allotted holiday time off work around the world became accessible and possible for the masses, pilgrimage played a part in ordinary people’s lives for the quite simple process and desire to “get away from it all”, have “a change of scene”, and “have a break” from the routine. When days off from work were rare, to say you were going on pilgrimage was one of the only acceptable methods of gaining time off from your boss. So it had an appeal in quite simply getting away from the daily grind. It was accepted by all that pilgrimage to a site of relics or saints was a very good and necessary thing to do. Not everyone that went off on a pilgrimage held a deep religious conviction for going, for some it was quite simply…a holiday. Some went for healing, some to hope that a particular saint could help them with a problem, or help bolster their own faith, fulfil a vow, or gain a blessing.

The world of the medieval pilgrim was for the most part isolated, quite oppressive and ruled by monotonous regularity and overpowering conventions. Certainly before the black Death changed the social and cultural landscape of England, people belonged in a very real sense to their church and all life was lived out under its shadow. An individual was baptised, married and buried in that church of his village. He was not allowed to take the sacraments at any other church. No strangers were allowed to be buried in that church. It was not unknown for those who died outside their own parishes to be exhumed and brought back to their own churchyards. In 1215, the Lateran Council reinforced this bond to the church by making every layman confess his sins once a year to his parish priest and no-one else. Only permitted travellers and those in danger of death were permitted to confess to a strange priest. And so, pilgrimage gave the only opportunity to step outside the norm and see something and somewhere different.

So, to return to the dear old Wife of Bath, whose tale I struggled with so valiantly at college. She was rude and raucous, had a strong voice for a woman of those times as they were depicted, had seen off some three husbands and made it quite clear that she dominated both the household and the bedroom. Rather a character to say the least! At  17 years old I had not the faintest idea of what she was talking about! But we are told that before taking the road to Canterbury,

“thries hadde she been at Jerusalem;

She hadde passed many a straunge strem;

At Rome she haddeth been, and at Boloigne,

In Glaice at Seint Jame, and at Coloigne.

She koude muchel of wandrynge by the way.”

She was therefore an extremely well-travelled international pilgrim, who in addition to visiting the three major shrines, [The Holy Land, Rome and St James de Compostela] had venerated the Virgin Mary at Boulogne and the Three Magi in Cologne Cathedral. Many English men and women will have shared at least some of her journeys. But the long haul pilgrimage to an overseas site was the exception rather than the norm, and for most folk, pilgrimage would have made to places within a week or so walking of where they lived for a major one, for example Canterbury, and much more regularly to places near to where they lived and could access within a couple of days or so. A few daring freedom seeking souls were on almost permanent pilgrimage and could hardly be distinguished from the vagabonds.

So I intend to start tomorrow with the Tale of my Pilgrimage to The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, a shrine which is known internationally and was one that was right on my doorstep as I grew up. I will also cover Glastonbury, Iona, Rosslyn [of De Vinci code recent fame], St Julian’s Cell in Norwich and some others that I have visited and photographed and I hope you will enjoy.  The photo in this blog was taken at The Bull Inn at Walsingham, a place where pilgrims have perhaps stayed for hundreds of years, and which I spent a wonderful few nights in. It is a wall painting in the upstairs dining room by a very talented former owner. I hope that this series on pilgrimage encourages or reminds you of its joys and tempts you to decide to go on one again yourself…sometime soon!


Photograph (C) Stephanie 2012