In medieval times, Walsingham was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world, known as ‘England’s Nazareth’, as it featured a reputed replica of the home of Jesus’ mother, Mary.
In 1538, during King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries, Walsingham Priory was ruined and the Madonna and Child statue from the shrine was taken to London and burned; Walsingham remained in ruins for almost 300 years. The banner of Christianity was left to be carried by the parish church of the new Church of England until the momentous religious revolution that swept through England in the 18th century.
John Wesley visited Little Walsingham in 1781 where a Methodist society had been in existence for the previous two years.
He recorded in his Journal that he preached at 2pm on 30 October to a crowd of several thousand and then went to view the ruins of the Priory and Friary: “Had there been a grain of virtue or public spirit in Henry the Eighth, these noble buildings need not have run to ruin.”
A small Methodist chapel was built in 1782, which later became two cottages when the present church was built in 1793-4. This building is the oldest purpose-built chapel in East Anglia where services are still being held. The interior is in the plain style of early Methodist preaching-houses. It became head of the Wesleyan Methodist Walsingham Circuit in due course and a 1847 plan of the preaching appointments for the chapel and its 33 daughter churches is on display. Most of these villages also had Primitive Methodist Chapels together with many other Primitive Chapels where no Wesleyan cause existed. Small wonder that in the 1851 census the majority of Norfolk church goers were Methodist !
Before 1829 public pronouncements of the Catholic faith were illegal and pilgrimages to the slipper chapel only started in 1897. The 1920s saw the arrival of Rev Alfred Hope Patten who started to rebuild the shrine in 1931. For over 350 yrs therefore Walsingham was a religious backwater without the profile it has today. During the 19th century for many ordinary country people the Methodist church was the place they called their spiritual home; where they shared their faith whilst also being the centre of their social life and community.
Walsingham Methodist Chapel transports us back to a simpler, slower era. It is by far the oldest unaltered place of worship in Walsingham (St Mary’s was beautifully rebuilt following a fire in 1962) and we can contemplate the generations who have worshipped here before us as we seek God in it’s quiet surroundings.
The gallery at Walsingham still has its original pews while on the ground floor the pews are of a heavier style favoured by the Victorians. The Victorian central pulpit dominates the simple table with its unusual brass candlesticks. The organ came from the Primitive Methodist Church when this closed in the 1930s after union of the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Churches. Copies of the original religious licences, which were obtained from the Bishop in order to register a place of religious worship in both Great and Little Walsingham, are on show as are various other artefacts. Primarily however its the atmosphere that brings back memories and history and brings us closer to God.
Monthly informal services Sunday at 4-30 pm followed by a get together over food and a drink . All welcome. Dates as advertised on this site and at chapel.