The original shrine had its first recorded mention in 1152 and in its time was almost as important as Walsingham. Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward I, was married in its chapel in 1297. Between 1517 and 1522 the shrine was visited by Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey, who was born in Ipswich. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation and its statue sent to London in 1538 to be burnt. However, legend has it that the statue found its way to Nettuno, about 30 miles south of Rome.
Jean Johnson was involved in a meeting of Anglicans and Catholics in Ipswich in 1977 to discuss the possible restoration of the shrine that led to the setting up of the Guild of Our Lady of Grace.
In 2002 a replica statue, carved by Robert Mellamphy, was installed in the Anglican church of St Mary at the Elms, a short distance from the site of the original shrine.
Miss Johnson said: “It was a great joy to be present at the service. The widening ecumenical interest in our shrine was shown by participation of Methodist and Baptist/URC clergy as well as a good number of priests along with the Archdeacon of Ipswich and three Anglican bishops. Our prayers remembered particularly those who worked to establish the shrine along with members of the guild, founded to pray for Christian unity and to re-establish the shrine. We prayed especially for peace in Ukraine and for those living under the shadow of the pandemic.”
Clergy attending the service included the Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Anglican Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the Rt Rev Canon Monsignor Eugene Harkness, representing the Bishop of East Anglia and the Rt Rev Norman Banks, Bishop of Richborough who gave the address.
Miss Johnson said: “He mentioned pilgrimages to Nettuno, the wonderful hospitality there and the townspeople’s great devotion to ‘the English Lady’. He also explained that the guild had been renamed the Meryemana [House of Mary] Foundation because of the belief that John took Mary to a house in Ephesus in her latter days, also reminding us of the Council of Ephesus in 431 when Mary was declared Theotokos, Mother of God.”
Other guests included Cllr Elizabeth Hughes, the Mayor of Ipswich, who read from Luke’s Gospel about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Silvano and Mario Casaldi, representing the sister shrine in Nettuno, and the family of the sculptor, Robett Mellamphy. There were also representatives from the Russian Orthodox church and the Cambridge Central Mosque. Radio Maria England broadcast the service but unfortunately technical issues disrupted their coverage.
Jean said: “Finally, in beautiful sunshine, we proceeded out to Lady Lane, site of the original shrine, where with billowing banners and clouds of incense, we recited the Angelus, prior to retiring to the Methodist church for a wonderful lunch and special celebration cake.”
Another Catholic who attended the service, Bernadette Wood, said: “It was a wonderful gathering to honour Our Lady of Grace, and remember the first 20 years of this wonderful shrine’s new phase, giving praise to God.”
Pictured above are clergy underneath the statue of Our Lady of Grace in Ipswich.