Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Our Lady of Woolpit

The shrine visited today on the spiritual Marian pilgrimage around medieval England is that of Our Lady of Woolpit. Woolpit, in central Suffolk, is somewhere I had heard of, and I knew the story of the Green Children (vide infra) but I was not aware of there having been a shrine of Our Lady there.

The church, first apparently recorded as a place of pilgrimage in 1211-14, was linked to the abbey of Bury St Edmunds. On the basis of a grant of a fair later in the thirteenth century on the feast of the Nativiry of the Virgin on September 8th that would appear to have been the most important time for public pilgrimage. By the later Middle Ages the statue of the Virgin was, it seems, housed in a separate chapel attached to the north side of the chancel of the parish church. Following the removal of the statue in 1538 a few years later, in 1551, the chapel itself was demolished and its site is now partly occupied by a vestry. Only after the destruction of the original shrine does it seem that a spring a little to the north of the churchyard, the Lady Well, became a centre for prayer, with its waters held to have curative properties.

There is an introduction to the history of the village, including the story of the twelfth century Green Chilidren, at Woolpit.

By far the best account of the history of the shrine and pilgrimage is an article by Clive Paine published in 1993 by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History which can be read at Volume XXXVIII Part 1 (1993)_Chapel and Well of Our Lady of Woolpit C Paine.

The Woolpit devotion is also considered in Eamonn Duffy’s work on pilgrimage in his collection of essays at Royal Books and Holy Bones.

The Suffolk Churches website has a good illustrated account of the very fine late medieval church of St Mary at Suffolk Churches.

The Lady Well is discussed in a piece at The Lady Well of Woolpit

Our Lady of Woolpit, pray for us

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