Saturday 24 September 2011

England's Nazareth: Our Lady of Walsingham's solemn crowning in 1954 is often referred to as the "miracle of the doves"

Our Lady of Walsingham watched over by two white doves
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom (Mercy), which is kept in England and Wales as the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. England has been known as "Our Lady's Dowry" for several centuries. So it's only appropriate that the Blessed Virgin's most honoured title in England is celebrated on this day - as we trust that she will surely ransom her own Dowry at the appropriate time.

In honour of Our Lady of Walsingham, then, I would like to draw your attention to a little miracle (or marvel) that happened in England's Nazareth during the Feast of the Assumption, 1954.

That year had been declared a Marian Year, and to mark the occasion Pope Pius XII wished to honour Our Lady of Walsingham by having her new statue solemnly crowned. Only a few statues in the world have been crowned in the name of the Pope, so this was a big event! Over 15,000 pilgrims attended the ceremony at the old Abbey's grounds, and the Archbishop of Savannah, Gerald Patrick O'Hara - who was about to become the Papal Delegate to the UK - crowned Our Lady of Walsingham, using a crown made from precious jewels and metals donated by various Catholics - mainly women - from around Britain.

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee (Lk 1:35)
Straight after the solemn crowning, two white doves settled on the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham and remained on the Blessed Virgin's lap during the mile-long procession to the Slipper Chapel. The two birds then stayed with Our Lady for a whole night, as if they were keeping watch with her. This little miracle was much talked about at the time, and the spectacle was even caught by a Pathé News cameraman (the above picture is a screen shot from this piece of film).

As the story of Our Lady of Walsingham centres around a vision of the "holy house" at Nazareth, the Annunciation (cf Lk 1:26-38) has always been an important aspect of the Shrine's preaching mission. One of the great mysteries of the Annunciation, of course, is the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Mary, which led to the conception of Our Lord. It's quite strange, then, to recall that the Spirit of God is nearly always symbolised by a white dove! One wonders, therefore, whether these doves were sent by God to remind us of Our Lady's submission to His will and to help us meditate on her perpetual virginity and on the fact that she conceived through the "overshadowing" power of Holy Spirit?

Strangely, this event in Walsingham mirrored a similar spectacle, also known as "the miracle of the doves", which happened a few months after Our Lady of Fatima had been solemnly crowned on behalf of Pope Pius XII on 13 May 1946. Although it's hard to find many eye-witness accounts of the Walsingham spectacle, we do have several statements from those who saw the doves at Fatima. These "Fatima doves" stayed so close to Our Lady during a two-week nation-wide procession in December 1946, that it's believed they didn't even leave her side to consume food or water. Here is part of the account given by one of the priests, called Fr Oliveira, who was present at the the procession in honour of the solemn crowning of Our Lady of Fatima - it's well worth reading: -
"Let me tell the incident of the doves, about which the newspapers here in Portugal have spoken so much and which is on the lips of every person in the nation. 
"It began in a town called Bombazral, a short time after the statue had left Fatima. 
Scenes from the Portuguese "miracle of the doves" 
"As part of the ceremony in that particular town, while the streets filled with people were singing hymns to Our Lady and pressing to be near the statue someone freed four white doves. The greater part of the crowd hardly noticed it. 
"After flying off into the air, three of the doves ... instead of flying from the great crowd to some roof-top ... made several evolutions over the statue and then suddenly, to the amazement of all who saw them, plummeted downwards, and alighted at Our Lady's feet! 
"This was the beginning. 
"During the days that followed, midst ever-changing crowds, moving from one town to another night and day for almost two whole weeks, the doves did not leave the statue. They remained there at the very base of the statue, as though vying one with the other actually to stand on Our Lady's feet. Yet bands played, people shouted, the bier on which the statue was mounted moved and swayed, rockets exploded at night and cascaded fire, while giant searchlights burned at them. They were constantly buffeted by flowers tossed to the statue from the surging crowds. 
"But they did not fly. They blinked, shook off flowers that hit them, occasionally stretched their wings to keep balance. But they remained there at her feet during the entire two-week journey. They refused food or drink. 
"When the statue was carried into Lisbon, I had the honor of walking at its side as Carmelite Tertiaries bore it triumphantly into the city. I was so close to it, and to the doves, that I could reach out and touch either. Cordons of militia and police were holding back the crowds of many thousands of people who had gone far out of the city to meet this most famous representation of the Virgin, coming for their greatest Marian centennial. 
"All during the night of December 5th, in the Church of Our Lady of Fatima of Lisbon, the doves remained standing at the feet of the statue. By now they were more the object of comment than the beautiful statue or the glory in which it was enthroned. The newspapers had been filled with the story of their perseverance, their utter fearlessness, the strangeness of their position. Many must have wondered what would happen ... now that they had actually accompanied the statue into the church that had been prepared for its reception, refusing to be brushed off or frightened away. 
"The next morning, at Mass, they had their answer. 
"The next morning, the doves flew. 
"From midnight, Masses were constantly recited at the altar near the statue. As I mentioned in the beginning, the church was crowded to the doors with Lisbonites keeping vigil. 
"In the morning, after the many Masses of the night, came the solemn High Mass, which was to be followed by a general Communion. 
"During the Solemn Mass, most of the people in the great church had undoubtedly stopped watching the doves, to which they were now accustomed, to concentrate on the Mass. This was especially true in the solemn moment when the bell sounded, and a great hush fell over the crowd just before the elevation. 
"In that moment of hush, there was a sudden fluttering of wings. 
"To the utter amazement of all, two of the doves suddenly flew ... after two weeks of refusing food or drink and of remaining at the feet of the statue ... one sped straight to the gospel side of the altar, and the other to the epistle side! There, as the bishop straightened to raise the Consecrated Host, they alighted and folded their wings ... one on each side ... as though in adoration! 
"As the Mass progressed, the two doves remained there to the bewilderment of the celebrants and servers and the stupefied congregation. 
"But this was still not the climax. 
"The third dove had not left the statue. 
"Suddenly, at the moment of communion, the third dove flew up and perched on top of the statue's golden crown ... placed there by the cardinal Legate who personally represented the Holy Father the previous May 13 at Fatima ... and as the celebrant turned and held up Our Lord, saying 'Ecce Agnus Dei' ('Behold the Lamb of God'), it spread its white wings and held them open!"
Of course, the appearance of doves or gentle animals has often been a sign of God's special blessing upon a person or thing. Our Lord himself was visited by the Holy Spirit "in the form of a dove", which "rested upon him" (cf Lk 3:22) after his baptism at the beginning of his public ministry. Others, such as Pope St Gregory the Great, have also been graced by doves as a sign of God's blessing on their ministry. Even the present Pope has spoken about the joy he felt when a lark (the bird that sings at Heaven's gates) suddenly appeared from behind the high altar during his own ordination to the priesthood. And we all know that Bl Pope John Paul II often seemed to be greeted by white doves that wanted to settle on him during his pontificate.

These little miracles seem to suggest that God's innocent creatures enjoy being around those who are close to Him. These signs can also point to some providential blessing upon men or women dedicated to the Gospel, or to the fact that the Holy Spirit - the giver of Life - is moving amongst us!

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us
Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love!

Poster by Dylan Parry A Reluctant Sinner
This is a slightly edited repost from my own blog.


  1. @A Reluctant Sinner

    Our Lady of Walsingham pray for us!


  2. @A Reluctant Sinner

    I'm looking forward to your inaugural Guild meeting on October 1st 20011, at Father Finigan's Church, Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, this was posted by vesper to The hermeneutic of continuity at 8/14/2011 12:41 PM

    vesper has left a new comment on the post "A sermon on Church architecture" :

    @Father Finigan

    Thank you for this timely sermon on Church architecture.

    I grew up in Deptford Church Street overlooking St Paul's C of E, a baroque masterpiece which Sir John Betjamin described as the 'Pearl in the Heart of Deptford'.

    It was working with the late Guardian of Walsingham Canon David Diamond that led to me becoming a Roman Catholic. Father Diamond is buried in the St Paul's Churchyard which makes it a real church for me at least, as I stop and pray there when I visit.

    London's Anglo Catholics will clearly recall that Canon Diamond invited HRH The Prince of Wales to open the First Premise, St Paul's Court in the 1987/88 football season.

    Addey & Stanhope School's Steve Pratt can confirm that Canon Diamond also used my poetry to invite HRH the Prince of Wales to the opening of St Paul 's Court:

    SE8 MATE

    16 ACRES FREE.

    Canon Diamond and I are both recorded as being professional Thames Gateway contributors to the Civic Trust report which preceded Deptford City Challenge.

    I was invited to St James Palace by Stephen Couling, and Dr Brian Hanson of The Prince of Wales’ Institute of Architecture, and I was shortlisted for their course at Oxford, Rome and Villa Lante, which unfortunately never happened because I was arrested following a dispute at the Old Addeyans FC/ Densitron International PLC development. Regina v Hobson 1991 and two not guilty verdicts followed before Judge Smith at the ILCC.

    My individual case for the defence against NF/BNP entry-ism into London's Sporting/Planning arena as evidenced by my FOOTBALL AGAINST RACISM IN EUROPE (FARE) 1991-2011 case focus is with our ConDem Nation Home Secretary after John Austin, the former leader of Greenwich Council, and my former MP for Erith & Thamesmead wrote to her about the case. David Evennett my new Bexleyheath & Crayford MP also wrote to the Home Secretary to express his concerns about the case too. The resulting delayed response from the Police Minister Nick Herbert has subsequently caused extreme mental distress, loss of the right of Judicial Review, and finger pointing from both sides of the House of Commons with each side blaming the other for the loss of my human and civil rights 1991-2011.

    Here is a facebook link to a critical City Challenge regeneration project in Bexley where you are the RC Dean!/pages/Larner-Road-Regeneration/134486906624144

    The Larner Road Estate is the very poor neighbour to Bexley Athletic Club's Erith Stadium with it's exciting Olympic 2012 focus. I would ask you Father, to keep this bottom to top project in focus, and in your prayers too.

    Our Lady of the Rosary ( ) pray for us!


  3. Father Finigan today I recently mentioned the meeting of the Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma for Catholic bloggers at a church-related meeting and rather felt that it would have made a better impression if I said that I was organising a parish cage-fighting day :-)


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