WALSINGHAM SHRINE CHAPEL
E`XCAVATION of the small building on the north side .11-4 of the mined Priory church at Walsingham, Norfolk, has shown this to be the remains of the Chapel of the
Shrine of Our Lady, visited and described by William of Worcester in 1479.
The Shrine, a small wooden building, was founded according to tradition in A.D. 1061though historians have in general placed it a little laterand a generation later the Priory was established to guard the shrine. At a later date, the stone chapel was built to cover and protect the original shrine and this building, the Novum Opus of William is first recorded in his description. It was also seen by Erasmus in 1511.
For more than a century, since the first test excavation by Canon James Lee Warner, there has been some controversy, bothon the nature of his findings and on the dates of the various buildings. These new excavations, directed by Mr. Charles Green, on behalf of the Walsingharn Excavation Committee, were designed to resolve these difficulties.
The existing remains of the Priory charch have long made it clear that extensive building took place in the fourteenth century, when the original Norman church was replaced by a great aisled church with a central tower, This was again modified early in the fifteenth when the east window was remodelled in the Perpendicular style.
Embedded in the north wall of this church were found remains of the original Norman church and some direct evidence of the central tower which before had been known only from the medieval description. The excavations also showed that, shortly after the church itself was rebuilt, the Chapel of the Shrine was erected.
Further confirmation of its purpose was seen in its layout. It lay at an angle to the church, showing that its contents were of more importance even than that churoh. Its massive walls, too, gave evidence of its precious contents.
Of the original wooden shrine there was little direct evidence. After this floor had been almost completely destroyed, no remains of the shrine could be detected.
Furthermore, the levelling of the sloping site by the chapel-builders had destroyed much of the original surface. But indications of a few post-holes and supports which belonged to a period before the chapel, in use until the chapel was built, give evidence of a contained wooden building, though their remnants were not sufficient to determine its exact size and plan.
This levelling had had another. unexpected result. It had brought close to the surface an AngloSaxon cemetery of much earlier date and these graves were seen to have been cut through and destroyed by the chapel-builders. With them occurred a series of post-holes of similar date, forming a pattern not closely related to the later buildings. The date and nature of these suggest the possibility of an early pagan Saxon shrine on this site. It is well known that early Christian priests often built their new churches on pagan sites, thus hallowing the temple-sites of the heathen deities.