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.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Our Lady of Grace of Ipswich

Our Lady of Grace at Ipswich was one of the best known and most widely invoked of the Marian pilgrimages of medieval England.

Ipswich like Coventry is one of those historic cities or towns that one does not always think of as being anything like as historic as they are.

As at Cambridge Our Lady was invoked by her attribute as a channel of Grace rather than recalling an apparition or a patronal role for a church.

The first record of the shrine is apparently in 1152. The statue was housed in a separate chapel near the west gate of the town, not one of the dozen parish churches that served the town. Four of those Ipswich parishes were dedicated to Our Lady which appears to indicate a strong Marian tradition in the town. The chapel was originally dedicated to All Saints but acquired the name of the statue it housed and the thoroughfare on which it stood became known as Lady Lane. The surviving buildings, with twelfth century stonework, and neighbouring historic almshouses were only demolished in 1877. 

Records from 1327 record the ‘recent’ discovery of the statue beneath the floor and that ‘several great miracles had taken place’ there. There is more about these and later aspects of the shrine in a set of linked articles at Borin Van Loon: Ipswich Historic Lettering: Lady Lane

Several accounts of the shrine chapel claim it as the site of the wedding of the youngest daughter of King Edward I on January 8 1297. However other sources suggest this was in the church of SS Peter and Paul, which was linked to an Augustinian priory in the town, I am tempted to think that SS Peter and Paul is the more likely place for the marriage of the 14 year old Elizabeth of Ruddlan to the 12 year old Count John I of Holland, and that they subsequently went to the shrine for a blessing. There are Wikipedia accounts of the church and the young couple at St Peter's Church, IpswichElizabeth of Rhuddlan and John I, Count of Holland I wonder if Ipswich was chosen as the setting for the wedding because of its maritime links to Holland.

In the early sixteenth century there was a well-attested healing miracle in 1516 and there were royal visits by both Queen Katherine of Aragon in 1517 and King Henry VIII and that famous son of Ipswich, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1522.  Wolsey had doubtless visited the shrine as a boy. When in 1528-30 he established his College in Ipswich he provided for an annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Ipswich.

Wikipedia has a good account of the shrine at Our Lady of IpswichThe very helpful Suffolk Churches website has a good and lengthy article at their Suffolk Churches site

It used to be claimed that the statue was one of those burned at Chelsea in 1538, but as the two sites listed above show there is good reason to believe that the statue was saved and that in 1550 to travelled abroad and was acquired by a church literally on the seashore of Italy at Nettuno. This would tie in with the reports of religious artifacts being exported in bulk from England in 1550.

The shrine church at Nettuno, much rebuilt over the centuries still houses this statue and is also now the shrine church of the twentieth century virgin martyr St Maria Goretti, who used to pray before the statue. There are accounts in Italian and English of the story of the statue and of the basilica with photographs at Santuario Nostra Signora delle Grazie e S. Maria Goretti di Nettuno which recounts the details of the arrival of the statue in the port of Nettuno and at Santuario - Basilica - Comune di Nettuno

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in the devotion to Our Lady of Ipswich. A plaque in Lady Lane now marks the site of the shrine chapel in the town centre. A consciously ecumenical initiative resulted in the creation of a new shrine with a copy of the statue at Nettuno in the historic church of St Mary at the Elms which was dedicated in 2003.

There are articles at Our Lady of Ipswich and at The Shrine – St Mary at the Elms, Ipswich about the restoration of the shrine.

Our Lady of Grace of Ipswich Pray for us

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