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Our Lady of Victories

Joint Pilgrimage to Ladyewell
Saturday 4th June 2016

In spite of the complex confluence of motorways, the anonymity of the bushy-bounded byways and the satnav-proof seclusion of the shrine, a profusion of pilgrims converged on Ladyewell that Saturday morning. Six stalwarts in hi-viz jackets shoehorned cars and coaches into slender car parks, unfailingly polite and cheerful as always. Pilgrims came from all over the North West of England to honour Our Lady of Fernyhalgh. And the sun shone! In defiance of the clouds and rain predicted by the weather forecasters.

We gathered at the beautiful church of St Mary's Fernyhalgh, built in 1794 on the only available plot of land near the shrine. Our worship began at noon with the Angelus, on the sunlit lawn of the presbytery garden. Then, led by the crucifer, acolytes and thurifer the Rosary Procession began to wend its way along the lane towards the shrine itself. Four willing volunteers carried the statue of Our Lady at the centre of the procession, and bringing up the rear was a most impressive array of priests concelebrant in their white Marian chasubles. Last of all, in the fitting position of honour, walked the Rt. Rev'd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, who was to be the Principle Celebrant at the Solemn Mass.

Mercifully delivered from the huge tractors which zoom along these narrow lanes, we entered the shrine grounds, passing the modestly beautiful holy well itself to fill up the open-air worship space provided on the lawn to the rear of Ladyewell House. Although there had not been any recorded apparitions of Our Lady at Fernyhalgh, it has been a centre of pilgrimage and continued prayer and petition over seven centuries. Over the years, it has become a very special place, and is now a centre of pilgrimage for a number of denominations. May Our Lady of Fernyhalgh continue to be a focus for devotion which fosters that Christian unity for which her Son prayed.

Solemn Concelebrated Mass was the central Act of Worship of the Pilgrimage, in which music plays an important part - we are grateful to the musicians under the direction of Mike Heppleston.

The preacher was Fr Stephen Jones, parish priest of Christ Church, Carnforth, who spoke to the theme of pilgrimage and how this reflects the progress of our Christian lives - our thanks go to him, to all the clergy, servers and stewards, and of course to Bishop Philip as Principal Celebrant.

Hospitality at the shrine is always unstinting, and the volunteers were there to provide us with hot drinks at lunchtime, to complement the picnic lunches we had brought. There was time to chat to friends and fellow pilgrims, to spend thoughtful time at the well of Our Lady, and of course to visit the shrine shop!

After lunch came the simple but moving service of sprinkling with water from the Holy Well, and then the Shrine Priests, Fr Ernest and Fr Mario-Benedict, celebrated Benediction. To be able to spend time in the sacramental presence of Our Lord and to worship in this quiet and special place was something all the pilgrims valued.
Not every pilgrimage is marked by the presentation of a Certificate, but this one was! Fr Ernest recounted that when he first came to England he was taken to visit a certain notable football ground and at the end of the visit was presented with an ornate certificate to prove that he had been! He felt that this Joint Pilgrimage should be recognised in a similar way, so he and his colleague presented Bishop Philip with a Certificate to mark this occasion! He praised the good organisation of the event, and the evident honour paid by this group to Our Lady and her Son. We'd like to express our gratitude to Frs Ernest and Mario-Benedict for their kindness, and indeed to all the staff and volunteers at the shrine for their hospitality and welcome.

We record also our thanks to Fr Roger Parker and all who laboured behind the scenes to organise this Joint Pilgrimage - they tell us that they plan to do the same next year, so we must put the date in our diaries - Saturday 3rd June 2017.