Posted by esbvm on 28th February 2009
The North-West branch held its last meeting of the year in the picturesque Lancashire village of Waddington, a couple of miles north-west of the town of Clitheroe. For those of the Society who have not ventured to this part of the world, the Ribble valley is second-to-none in scenery, beauty and interest. Our venue was St Helen’s church and the reason for our visit was to hear a talk by one of our own branch members, Nigel McNeill, on “Buxted, Nazareth in Sussex”
Nigel began by reminding us of the glorious medieval shrine of Walsingham, of its origins and its popularity in the Middle Ages with many English monarchs, including Henry VIII before his break with Rome. After the rupture, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was removed to be burned with others in the hope that Mary would thus be expelled from the consciousness of the faithful. Whilst Walsingham awaited its resurrection, events in other parts of England contributed to this.
One of the unsung champions of the Oxford Movement (and a particular hero of Nigel’s) was a Fr Wagner, parish priest of St Bartholomew’s in Brighton. He was a wealthy man in his own right and did great work building churches at his own expense. One of these, St Mary’s was in the village of Buxted, near Uckfield in Sussex. Fr Wagner had a house there that he used as a retreat from his parish work in Brighton and he had built a Lady Chapel for the church. It seems he was a man entranced by proportion: St Bartholomew’s was built on the proportions of Noah’s Ark; the Lady Chapel at Buxted was built on the proportions of Walsingham’s Holy House. Quite how he got the Walsingham proportions is a mystery but he was very friendly with J.M. Neale, who was an antiquarian as well as hymn writer.
A later rector of Buxted was Fr Charles Rowe, whose brother was the Rural Dean of Norfolk. He was looking for a vicar for the living of Little Walsingham and asked Fr Charles for suggestions. Fr Charles remembered a keen young clergyman who might fit the bill, one Fr Hope Patten and duly recommended him. As the cliché says, the rest is history – or mystery! There are those who would point to serendipity but to those of us who know and love Our Lady, the request to Fr Charles and appointment of Fr Hope Patten was more than mere serendipity. Hope Patten had the model and proportions for the Holy House from Buxted and so it can truly be called England’s Nazareth in Sussex.
After Evening Prayer from the Ecumenical Office, the North-West branch shared ideas for next year’s venues and topics and we only need to organise these to provide our programme for next year.