Bishop and pilgrims visit Our Lady of Ipswich shrine

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Bishop and pilgrims visit Our Lady of Ipswich shrine

Bishop Peter Collins blessed the statue of Our Lady of Ipswich on May 15, the first feast of Our Lady of Ipswich and of Our Lady of Grace since the statue had arrived in Ipswich, reports Fr Joseph Welch.

He then laid at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a spiritual bouquet of 3,500 rosaries that had been said by parishioners of St Pancras since the feast of her Immaculate Conception in December for the conversion of souls in Ipswich and beyond.

The blessing was followed by a solemn pontifical Mass, at which other priests from the local deanery assisted, notably Canon David Bagstaff, Fr Luke Goymour, and Fr Jude Belnas. In his homily, Bishop Peter spoke movingly about devotion to Our Lady of Ipswich now becoming part of the life of the diocese.

Already, a number of groups have arranged to visit the Lady chapel at St Pancras on pilgrimage where they will be able to make their devotions and where priests will be welcome to say Mass. It is hoped that devotion to Our Lady of Ipswich will flourish alongside devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Grace, an historic title which may have been first applied to Our Lady in the town of Ipswich.

On May 27, pilgrims from Our Lady Immaculate and St Edmunds, Withermarsh Green (pictured above), were warmly welcomed by Fr Joseph Welch at the newly established shrine. Fr Henry Whisenant celebrated Mass at the Lady altar and Fr Welch preached on the various symbols encapsulated in the new replica statue of Our Lady of Grace and spoke about its history. Mass was followed by the Rosary, and then refreshments in the hall. “This was an opportunity for pilgrims to thank Our Lady for all the blessings and graces received over the last four years at Withermarsh Green,” said pilgrim Sarah Ward. “We thank Fr Welch for his generous hospitality.” 

There has been a shrine in Lady Lane in the town, dedicated to Our Lady of Ipswich, since 1152, and possibly since before then. Pilgrims flocked to the Blessed Virgin to beg for her prayers, for healing, for resolutions to disputes, for material assistance, indeed for almost every type of human need imaginable. Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward, was married at the shrine in 1297.

In the year 1402 Princess Blanche, daughter of King Henry IV, made a donation of 3s 4d to the shrine’s upkeep. King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, came to the shrine in 1517 before the ‘Great Matter’ of the King’s divorce became an issue. And the King himself came in 1522. The following year, in 1523, Sir Thomas More (who became Chancellor of England six years later) witnessed a healing miracle at the shrine.

Yet for all his earlier devotion, the shrine fell foul of King Henry VIII’s new policies which resulted in the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Like so many other statues, including the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, the statue of Our Lady of Ipswich was taken to London by Thomas Cromwell’s men to be burnt at Chelsea. However, the statue was rescued and smuggled abroad, ending up in the coastal town of Nettuno, in Italy, roughly halfway between Rome and Naples. The statue has remained there to this day, and is affectionately known by locals as ‘the English Lady.’

In 2022, St Pancras parish in Ipswich commissioned the famous Italian workshop of Stuflesser’s to make a copy of the statue in Nettuno which was duly carved and then delivered to Ipswich a year later. This was the first time that a statue of Our Lady of Ipswich had been installed in a Catholic church in the town in almost 500 years. In his homily, Fr John Barnes, the principal celebrant at the official Mass of welcome, said that whilst we were welcoming Our Lady home, in truth it was she who was welcoming us home.

Pictured right is Bishop Peter blessing the new statue of Our Lady of Ipswich. Picture credit: Birgitt Griggs.