Pre-Reformation Sanctuaries of Our Lady in England and Scotland

(taken from: Chandlery, Peter. “Shrines of Our Lady and the Saints in Great Britain and Ireland.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York, 1912, as quoted in New Advent)

Sanctuaries of Our Lady


(1) Abingdon — St. Edward the Martyr and St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, both encouraged pilgrimages to Our Lady of Abingdon, causing it to be resorted to by crowds of pious persons.

(2) Canterbury — At the east end of St. Augustine’s monastery was an oratory of Our Lady built by King Ethelbert in which reposed the bodies of many saints. The old Chronicler informs us that “in it the Queen of heaven did often appear; in it was the brightness of miracles made manifest; in it the voices of angels, and the melodious strains of holy virgins were frequently heard”.

(3) Caversham, Berks — A chapel of Our Lady in the church of the Austin Canons was a centre of great devotion, where rich offerings were made by Countess Isabel of Warwick, Elizabeth of York, queen-consort of Henry VII, and by Henry VIII in his youthful days. The entire image was plated with silver.

(4) Coventry — A celebrated image of Our Lady was here greatly venerated. With it are associated the glorious names of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and his wife, the Countess Godgifu (Godiva). The splendid abbey church founded by them in 1043 surpassed all others in the land in princely, even royal magnificence. It was spoken of as the glory of England and contained dazzling treasures. On her death Godgifu sent a rich chaplet of precious gems to be hung round Our Lady’s neck; no description of this image has reached us. The church was entirely demolished by Henry VIII.

(5) Ely — In the abbey church was venerated a magnificent image of Our Lady seated on a throne with her Divine Child in her arms, the whole marvellously wrought in silver and gold. Hither came King Canute on the feast of Our Lady’s Purification (1020?).

(6) Evesham — The name of this renowned sanctuary perpetuates the vision of Our Lady to a poor herdsman named Eoves. An abbey church was here built by Earl Leofric and the Countess Godgifu and enriched with a splendid image of Our Lady and Child, beautifully wrought of gold and silver. At once it became an object of popular devotion and attracted numerous pilgrims.

(7) Glastonbury was the most ancient and venerable sanctuary of Our Lady in England (see Glastonbury Abbey). In 530 St. David of Menevia, accompanied by seven of his suffragan bishops, came to Glastonbury, invited thither by the sanctity of the place, and consecrated a Chapel of Our Lady on the east side of the church. As a mark of his devotion to the Queen of Heaven, he adorned the golden superaltar with a sapphire of inestimable value, known as the Great Sapphire of Glastonbury. The Silver Chapel of Our Lady was stored with costly gifts, the value of which, at our present standard, mounted to a prodigious sum. Among the Saxon kings who came hither on pilgrimage may be mentioned Athelstan and Edgar the Peaceable, the latter laying his sceptre on the Blessed Virgin’s altar and solemnly placing his kingdom under her patronage.

(8) Ipswich — There were four churches of Our Lady in Ipswich, but the greatly renowned miraculous image was in St. Mary’s chapel, known as Our Lady of Grace. The numerous miracles wrought there were proved genuine by Blessed Thomas More in one of his works. Cardinal Wolsey ordered a yearly pilgrimage to be made to Our Lady’s sanctuary by the students of the college he had founded at Ipswich. In the thirtieth year of Henry VIII this image was conveyed to London and burnt at Chelsea, the rich offerings and jewels going to the king’s treasury.

(9) Tewkesbury — The church, founded in 715 by two Mercian dukes, Oddo and Doddo, enshrined within its walls a statue of Our Lady that was held in the greatest veneration. Isabella Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, gave a chalice and other valuable presents to this sanctuary in 1439. The statue had the good fortune to escape destruction at the time of the Reformation, probably owing to the reluctance of the magistrates to arouse the indignation of the populace, who regarded it with extraordinary veneration. In the reign of James I a Puritan inhabitant of the town got possession of this relic of the old religion, and to mark his contempt for it caused it to be hollowed out and used as a trough for swine. Terrible punishments overtook him and all the members of his family.

(10) Walsingham was the most celebrated of all the English sanctuaries of Our Lady. So great was the veneration in which it was held that it was called the “Holy Land of Walsingham”. About 1061 a little chapel, similar to that of the Holy House of Nazareth (not yet translated to Loreto) and dedicated to the Annunciation, was built here by Rychold (Recholdis) de Faverches, a rich widow, in consequence, it is said, of an injunction received from Our Lady. Within the chapel was a wooden image of the Blessed Virgin and Child. Pilgrims flocked from all parts of England and from the Continent to this sanctuary, and its priory became one of the richest in the world. Among the royal and noble pilgrims were: Henry III, who came in 1248; Edward I in 1272 (?) and 1296; Edward II in 1315; his consort, Isabella of France, in 1332; Edward III in 1361; Edward IV and his queen in 1469; Henry VII in 1487; Henry VIII in 1511, walking barefoot from Barsham Hall, on which occasion he presented Our Lady with a necklace of great value; and finally Queen Catherine of Aragon in 1514. About 1538 the venerated image was brought to London with that of Our Lady of Ipswich, and both were publicly burnt at Chelsea in presence of Cromwell. Fifteen of the canons of Walsingham were condemned for high treason; five were executed. All the jewels and treasures left by the piety of the faithful found their way into Henry VIII’s coffers.

(11) Worcester — St. Mary’s Minster at Worcester is of ancient date, and pre-eminent amongst its benefactors were Leofric and Godgifu, Earl and Countess of Mercia. The celebrated image of Our Lady and the Holy Child was carved of wood and of large size; it stood over the high altar and could be seen from all parts of the church. The apostate Bishop Latimer, writing to Cromwell, refers to this statue in coarse terms, and expresses a hope that with its sisters of Walsingham and Ipswich it may be burnt in Smithfield.

(12) Lincoln — Our Lady of Lincoln is frequently mentioned among the sanctuaries which were regarded by the English with special veneration. In the inventory of the treasures of the cathedral appropriated by Henry VIII, there is mention of the image of Our Lady, sitting in a chair, silver and gilt, having a crown on her head, silver and gilt, set with stones and pearls, and her Child sitting on her knee with one crown upon His head, with a diadem set with pearls and stones, having a ball with a cross, silver and gilt, in His left hand”. Of St. Hugh of Lincoln it is said that “for the glory of the ever Virgin Mother of the True Light, he crowned the lights which usually burned in her church with a host of others”. Besides the above, there were many other remarkable sanctuaries of Our Lady in England, to which Catholic pilgrims resorted before the unhappy days of the Reformation.


(1) Aberdeen — Our Lady at the Bridge of Dee, described as Our Lady at the Brig, is mentioned in 1459. Near to the chapel was a well dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, where miraculous favours were obtained. In the cathedral were four altars of Our Lady, each with her image, one being of silver.

(2) Edinburgh: Our Lady of Holyrood — In the Jesuit Church of the Sacred Heart, Lauriston Street there is an image of Our Lady and Child, carved in wood, which formerly was in Holyrood. For many years it was in the possession of the earls of Aberdeen and subsequently was purchased by Mr. Edmund Waterton, who presented it to the above church.

(3) Haddington — After defeating the Scots at Halidon Hill in 1333 Edward III ravaged the Lowlands, and part of his navy (says the chronicler of 1355) “spoiled the Kirk of Our Lady of Haddington, and returned with the spoil thereof to their ships”. But the sacrilege did not go unpunished, for a violent north wind rose and hurled the ships upon the sands and rocks.

(4) Musselburgh — The church, dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, was most famous and resorted to by numerous pilgrims, whose piety was rewarded with miraculous favours. The fury of the Calvinist reformers destroyed the sanctuary, and in 1590 the materials were used in building the Tolbooth.

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One Response to Pre-Reformation Sanctuaries of Our Lady in England and Scotland

  1. “Besides the above, there were many other remarkable sanctuaries of Our Lady in England, to which Catholic pilgrims resorted before the unhappy days of the Reformation.”
    One of these is Our Lady of Willesden (West London). A Visitation report of 1249 mentions the presence of two statues of Our Lady, one of which must have been the ‘Black Madonna’ encrusted with gold, silver and precious jewels, which was burnt in 1538 by order of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Vicar General for Ecclesiastical Matters. By this time the shrine was greatly renowned and pilgrims in their hundreds, if not thousands, journeyed to the sanctuary in what was then the heart of leafy Middlesex. At the turn of the sixteenth century the shrine was frequented by royalty (Queen Elizabeth of York) and the future martyr St Thomas More, who confidently petitioned the Blessed Virgin under her title of ‘Our Lady of Willesden’.

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