Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of West Grinstead

The IoW Catholic History Society arranged a pilgrimage for the Year of Faith to the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation at West Grinstead and to Arundel Cathedral. It is particularly pleasing for our pilgrimage to be on this feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, 2013. (Those of us who are older Catholics, will remember it as the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, and the work of the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom). This day also marks the first anniversary of the installation of Bishop Philip Egan, as the 8th Bishop on Portsmouth. We were delighted to have Fr. Jonathan and some members of the Ordinariate with us on the feast of their principal patron. If they are unable to go to Walsingham, this pilgrimage is, surely, a most appropriate substitute.

West Grinstead was an important centre for the Church during penal times. The faith was never lost thanks largely to the Caryll family who were a wealthy landowning Sussex family who built the “priest’s house”, (now the presbytery) in the mid 16th century. During penal times most priests who secretly returned to England from abroad, headed for this West Grinstead House, ideally situated deep in the wooded area of West Sussex. Our own two Island martyrs, Blessed Robert Anderton and Blessed William Marsden, were probably heading for West Grinstead when they were caught and executed in 1586.

West Grinstead’s seclusion and the well planned secrecy with priests disguised as servants and farm workers meant that no priest was ever caught here. This we know from the fact that the house has survived, as it was the custom for the authorities to burn down any house where a priest was found. From W. Grinstead priests were sent to different parts of the country to minister in secret to the faithful. In the house is a secret hiding hole for priests and a chapel in what used to be the hay loft where secret Masses were said

The end of the penal days brought an obvious end to the secrecy surrounding the place and the present magnificent church was built in 1876. At the same time a statue of Our Lady at W. Grinstead was crowned by the Papal Delegate, representing Pope Leo XIII. This solemn crowning at the shrine in the Sussex countryside, in thanksgiving for the preservation of the faith in penal times, was the first such crowning since the Reformation.

A school and orphanage was also opened. In 1889 Mgr. Denis’ curate, Fr. Francis Bourne (later to be Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) started the first Diocesan seminary for priests here in the place where 300 years earlier the facilities at West Grinstead were not large enough for a seminary and after a few years it moved to a purpose built new seminary at Wonersh, near Guildford.

The present Shrine of Our Lady was erected in 1882 in thanksgiving for the preservation of the faith and the important role that W. Grinstead played in penal times. The Church, sanctuary and High Altar were consecrated to the glory of God and in honour of Our Lady on 16th July 1896. The Shrine painting of Our Lady can be seen to the left of the High Altar with its stone canopy. The painting is based on the “Consolata” painting in Turin and the church dedicated to “Our Lady of Consolation”.

As you look at the sanctuary you will see the reredos depicts scenes from the life of Mary; – the Presentation, Assumption, Coronation of Our Lady and the wedding of Mary and Joseph. The four statues at the top of the reredos show St. Bruno, St. Thomas, St. Aloysius and St. Francis of Assisi.

Outside in the graveyard are buried the novelist, Antonia White; the portrait painter, James Gunn, and the famous writer and poet, Hilaire Belloc. This year (2013) marks the 60th anniversary of his death.

The parish priest is Fr. David Goddard, (a former Anglican, and a contemporary of Fr. John Catlin), is well known to those of us in Ryde. About ten years ago he visited Ryde twice to talk about the history of the shrine and on another occasion, about the E.F. Mass. He also advised St. Mary’s Parish on the purchase of the new organ in 2007. In 2009 his son, Fr. Matthew Goddard FSSP, came to Ryde shortly after his Ordination in 2009 for a Solemn High Mass at St. Mary’s; and again, in October 2013 for a Year of Faith Day of Recollection.

Most pilgrims took the opportunity to visit the secret chapel and priest’s hiding hole in the attic above the presbytery (once the hay loft).

For further information on West Grinstead shrine visit: – www.consolation.org.uk