I have to admit that until I came across Fr Hunwicke’s list of medieval English Marian shrines on his virtual pilgrimage I was unaware of Our Lady of Muswell as an object of particular devotion. The other two shrines which graced the heights of medieval Middlesex at Islington and Willesden I did know of. Willesden has been restored by both Anglicans and Catholics as a place of pilgrimage, and has given his title to one of the area bishops of the See of London. Islington Is less well known but there are hopes of re-establishing it as I posted the other week. Our Lady of Muswell, however, was new to me. The Internet came to my aid, and one may hope that behind that was not only St Isidore but Our Lady herself. Today is the day allocated to her shrine at Muswell on the pilgrimage, so here is a short introduction to its origins and history.
Muswell Hill is named after a mossy spring or well. This was on land given in the twelfth century by Robert de Belmeis II Bishop of London 1152-62 to the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary, Clerkenwall for use by the nuns as a dairy farm.
This is apparently the earliest recorded reference to Muswell Hill and the Bishop, who was the lord of the manor of Hornsey, and where he had an episcopal hunting park, granted some 65 acres to the nuns who had recently been established in Clerkenwell. Situated on the east side of Colney Hatch Lane, this land contained a natural spring or well.
The well was, or came to be, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and because it was said that the water had great healing properties, it became a place of pilgrimage.
The sixteenth century historian John Norden, described how a King of the Scots - now usually identified as King Malcolm IV (1153-65 ) - was cured of a disease by taking the waters of this well, and in the medieval period it remained a place of pilgrimage. The nuns built a chapel near it, "bearing the name of our Ladie of Muswell", and Muswell Hill became the name of the district in place of an earlier name.
The chapel itself disappeared with the dissolution of religious houses under King Henry VIII, but administration of the land was to remain with Clerkenwell parish until 1900, and was known as "Clerkenwell Detached". This was just at the time that the modern suburb of Muswell Hill was developing.
The modern Catholic parish of Our Lady of Muswell was established in 1917, and the church built in 1938, and consecrated in 1949. Like the original well and chapel it is on Colney Hatch Lane.
With thanks to muswell-hill.com and the website of the parish of Our Lady of Muswell.