Almost no Catholic practice excited more opposition among the Reformers of the 16th century than making pilgrimages to sanctuaries. Preachers such as Latimer had no objection to throngs of people gathering around their pulpits, often by force and under threat of fines, but they pined with envy if they saw people go to offer prayers at a sanctuary in honour of Our Lady.
The title of 'superstition' was given to this ancient pious practice especially by those in the courts of King Henry VIII and Edward VI, who grew rich by plundering the famous shrines. To justify their spoliations they collected arguments against each place in order to set about destroying them.
Christians took up the holy practice of making pilgrimages at the dawn of Christianity. In the writings of the Early Church fathers it is recorded that Christians paid great reverence to memorials and shrines of the martyrs and saints.
On few countries was the influence of pilgrimages exercised that England.
The spirit of pilgrimage in England is coeval with Christianity. No sooner has Saint Alban shed his blood than his tomb became a place of pilgrimage. The Anglo-Saxons had a great love for pilgrimages. The road between England and Rome became thronged, and many traveled onward to the sacred sites of Jerusalem.
Among the many traditions and devotions of the people practiced for centuries that were attacked by the Protestant Reformers, Pilgrimages ranked high. Great thinkers and defenders of the Catholic Faith in England presented defenses for the custom of making pilgrimages, although that did not spare the destruction of shrines such as the Shrine of Saint Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely, where this Saxon Saint's body had remained miraculously incorrupt for 1000 years, or the Shrine of Saint Thomas Becket.
Of the benefits received from making pilgrimages to the Shrines especially to the tombs of Saints here are a few:
1) We are vividly reminded of the Saint whose bones repose there, or to whom the church is dedicated, and so led to the imitation of his or her virtues.
2) Our devotion is stimulated to greater fervour
3) We, by our congratulations and rejoicing, become partakers in the merit of their good works
4) We ask more earnestly and therefor receive more abundantly the help of their prayers
5) Our charity is inflamed towards the martyrs of God and the God of the martyrs, and our spirit of religion and zeal increases
6) We endeavour even on earth to make them some compensations for their toils and sufferings
7) We acquire true honour ourselves by our association with these friends of God
8) Great graces and often miracles ar often obtained in such pilgrimages
9) The very remembrance of our visit to a holy place renews our devotion and becomes a lifelong gain.
Pilgrimages were a part of Catholic life in England for centuries.
As we prepare for the re-dedication of England to Our Lady as her Dowry in 2020, let us make pilgrimages to the places in our land that honour our Saints and Our Lady, such as the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in West Grinstead, Sussex, or the Shrine of Saint Philip Howard, an English Martyr in Arundel Cathedral, West Sussex, and many more.
For films about the Saints of England, the English Martyrs and also Our Lady of Walsingham, visit: