1893 marked the Centenary of the birth of Elizabeth, Countess of Clare, foundress of St. Mary’s, Ryde; and also, the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Ryde Mission. In the same year Pope Leo XIII requested that the English Hierarchy consecrate England to Our Lady and St. Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. This duly took place on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 1893 at Brompton Oratory.
It was reputed to be Edward the Confessor who offered England to Mary following her appearance at Walsingham in 1061. Three-hundred and twenty years later, King Richard II re-dedicated England to Our Lady in a solemn ceremony in Westminster Abbey on the Sunday after Corpus Christi, 1381, and consequently Marian shrines gradually appeared throughout the kingdom, which became known as the ‘Dowry of Mary’.
Originally, St. Mary’s had been built without a Lady Chapel, as this was the custom at the time for churches dedicated to Our Lady. However, with encouragement of the parish priest, Father John Baptist Cahill [a future Bishop of Portsmouth who had great devotion to Our Lady] and following Pope Leo’s request to the English Hierarchy, and a keen desire by parishioners to mark the centenary of the Countess’ birth, permission was eventually given and the beautiful shrine was built at the front of the south aisle of the church.
The altar was built from the design of the famous Victorian Catholic architect, Augustus Welby Pugin. The carving in the centre panel of the altar front depicts Our Lady of Walsingham, with angels decorated in gilt on the outer panels. Although Pugin had died in 1852 he left many drawings and designs which his son and ‘disciples’ carried out in Catholic churches throughout the country. This was one of the first representations of Our Lady of Walsingham, even pre-dating the restoration of the Norfolk Shrine itself. Consequently, St. Mary’s parishioners have always had a special devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham, whose feast is celebrated on the 24th September. (This is also the date of the installation of Mgr. Philip Egan, as Bishop of Portsmouth in 2012). It is certainly providential having this depiction of Our Lady in St. Mary’s, as the parish was pleased to welcome the Isle of Wight Ordinariate group and their pastor, Fr. Jonathan Redvers Harris, in 2011. Our Lady of Walsingham is their titular patron.
Father Cahill found a generous benefactor in Frederick de Courcy May, a parishioner at St. Mary’s, who agreed to finance the work on the shrine. This was in response to a wonderful and unexplained answer to a petition as he prayed one day in the church. When he had finished his prayer, he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around but the church was empty. Was this Mary signifying that she was answering his prayer? He certainly thought so and consequently the beautiful shrine was constructed in 1893 and blessed by Bishop Vertue on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This was repeated in many Catholic churches throughout the country with many grottos, shrines, chapels dedicated to Our Lady.
In the following year  the famous Victorian painter, Nathaniel Hubert Westlake, FSA, who had been commissioned as a painter by members of the Royal Family, painted the walls and ceiling of the Shrine with devotional and biblical scenes. In addition to the beautiful paintings of the Annunciation, Visitation, Assumption and Coronation of Mary, there are also Old Testament scenes showing the prophets Elijah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah forecasting the birth of Jesus. The ceiling panels highlight the Litany of Our Lady with scenes of the Mystical Rose, Ark of the Covenant, Morning Star and Gate of Heaven. The words of the
In the centenary year of the shrine , the parish priest at the time, Father John Dunne, was concerned at the condition of the shrine and its decoration and he had it restored by a parishioner, Marion Rodrigues of Seaview, an art teacher at the local Archbishop King Catholic School. She painstakingly repainted some of the scenes on the south wall that were almost lost and so the shrine was restored to its former glory. The Lady Chapel and the shrine are now considered to be one of the finest in the Diocese.
All priests at St. Mary’s have encouraged parishioners to pray in thanksgiving for our generous past benefactors who gave so much that we have been fortunate to inherit; and to pray that England may once again become the ‘Dowry of Mary’ and return to the Catholic Faith that was once hers for a thousand years before the Reformation.
The words of the Lourdes hymn [often sung at the Shrine in the May and October Devotions] underline Mary’ patronage of England:-
‘O Mary, O Mother, reign o’er us once more,
Be England thy Dowry as in days of yore’.
On the front (north) wall of the Lady Chapel there is a poem, written by a parishioner, Edmund Matyjaszek, which refers to Our Lady as the:-
“Queen of Flowers”.
Beside the Lady Chapel is a beautiful stainedglass window of the Assumption of Our Lady. This window is based on the painting by the famous Spanish Baroque painter from Seville, Bartolomé Murillo [1618-82] showing Mary rising up through the clouds, and angels holding the Crown of the Queen of Heaven.
It recalls the Book of Revelation (12: 1-6) which says:-
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”.
This window was designed and installed in 1880 by Nathaniel and Philip Westlake of London.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2018, this beautiful Lady Chapel is 125 years old. Please remember on this anniversary those who have prayed to Our Lady here at this chapel, both now and in the past.
Our Lady of Ryde – Pray for us
Sancta Maria – Ora pro nobis