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Ipswich pilgrims revive devotion to Our Lady of Grace

For the first time in nearly 500 years a group of Christian pilgrims gathered to walk from villages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace at St Mary Elms, Ipswich.

The pilgrimage took place on April 9. As in mediaeval times the walkers called at churches of St Mary as they processed towards the town towards the replica statue of Our Lady of Grace. The original statue is believed to be in Nettuno in Italy.

At St Mary’s church in Capel St Mary, Rev Sally Letman led prayers before joining pilgrims on the 9-mile route. Eighteen members took part, representing the four Christian communities in the village: Church of England, Catholic, Methodist and Community Church. They were also joined by a member of St Mary Elms church.

The pilgrims received a warm welcome at the St Mary churches in Bentley, Belstead and St Mary’s Stoke before arriving at St Mary at the Elms in Ipswich where they were greeted enthusiastically by Rev John Thackray. After a brief service and candle lighting at the Shrine weary pilgrims were treated to tea and cake at the vicarage, supplied very kindly by Rev John.

Suffolk has had a great devotion to Our Lady since the early mediaeval period and around half of the 500 churches in the county are still dedicated to St Mary. The Shrine to Our Lady of Grace received more visitors than Walsingham in those times, with famous visitors including Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and Cardinal Wolsey.

The idea to revive this pilgrimage route came from Kathy Pollard, a member of the Catholic Community in Capel St Mary. Kathy comments: “The idea was very much welcomed by the other church communities in the village and we are very grateful to Brian Rogerson from the Anglican church who organised the route and to the Rev Sally Letman who co-ordinated church visits and walked the route with Brian in advance.” She added: “It was a very successful day and an opportunity to witness our Christian faith and to pray together.”

Pictured above are pilgrims lighting candles at the replica statue of Our Lady of Grace at St Mary at the Elms, Ipswich.