The shrine of Our Lady of Fernyhalgh is in the beautiful gardens of Ladyewell House, which was built in 1685. Facing the house is the rather modern looking English Martyrs chapel, which serves as chancel and sanctuary when mass is being celebrated. There is a lot of outdoor seating in front of it, and other small sitting areas and gazebos are dotted around. Behind the chapel is a delightful woody glade containing stations of the cross. More stations of the cross, this time with descriptions in French, can be found in the Stella Maris prayer chapel, which is just next to the well.
Pilgrims have been making their way to this beautiful shrine since the 11th century, although there has never been an apparition of our Blessed Lady at Fernyhalgh just continued prayer and petition. Although the host church is Roman Catholic, the devotion is ecumenical. This particular pilgrimage was organised jointly by Forward in Faith and the Society of Mary. The procession starts at the church of St Mary's, Fernyhalgh, and it takes about quarter of an hour to wind its way through the Lancashire countryside to the shrine at Ladyewell.
It is in the middle of the countryside but only separated by one field from the very busy M6 motorway, which at this point is only a few miles from Preston. Apart from the church, small school and a presbytery, the only other buildings in the vicinity are farms.
The principal celebrant and preacher was the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn. There must have been at least a dozen concelebrating clergy.
What was the name of the service?Pilgrimage to Ladyewell. This consisted of a procession, solemn mass, sprinkling and benediction.
How full was the building?
I believe there were about 400 in the congregation, some of whom had come in coaches from far-flung locations.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. We were greeted at the car park by stewards, and again at the entrance to Ladyewell by ladies who handed out programmes.
Was your pew comfortable?
At various times I sat on a plastic chair, the grass, and a wooden bench. All did their jobs adequately.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a lot of friendly chat and some people seemed to be meeting up with old friends.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a programme that contained the services and all the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a group of five ladies who sang enthusiastically into microphones, and they were directed by Mr Mike Heppleston at an electric keyboard.
Did anything distract you?
A very large ginger cat, obviously at ease with all these holy goings-on, wandered amongst the congregation during the administration of communion. I prayed he would wander in my direction but unfortunately he succumbed to someone else's tickles and strokes.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I think this is about as high up the candle you can get! The thurifer who led the procession enjoyed whizzing his thurible around in huge circles, sending puffs of smoke into the countryside. All the clergy were vested in their finest apparel. There was lots of crossing, bowing and genuflecting, and we were treated to the sounds of bells as well as the aroma of the incense. However, I thought some of the hymn tunes were bordering on the happy clappy side, quite a few of them being unfamiliar to me.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – The bishop spoke extremely clearly, even with strong competition from very loud birdsong!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was all about Mary. Her love, trust and strong faith helped her to keep going through difficult times, even when she did not understand what was happening. We are attracted to her because she endured darkness and complications in her life. She was pregnant before marriage, then lived in a community who thought her son was deranged. She was confronted by a government who found her son innocent but had him put to death. She did not cower and flee like the disciples, but stood by the cross, sharing pain and agony with her son as she saw him tortured and killed. She is with us now as we go forward in trust and faith. She walks with us in our present turmoil in the church. She is full of grace, blessed amongst women and blessed because the Saviour is the fruit of her womb. It was in her that God first met us in such a human way. We need Marys help and support as we journey through life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At one point we were asked to listen to the voice of Jesus, and at this point a blackbird chose to sing his little heart out. We actually heard beautiful birdsong throughout the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two combine harvesters were making hay in an adjoining field and at times they seemed about to invade us.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the mass we had some time to eat our packed lunches and it was nice to mingle and meet up with old friends. We were looking forward to the sprinkling of water from the well.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Complimentary tea and coffee were served, but on such a hot day I preferred to drink my bottled water.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I would certainly like to visit again, perhaps in a few years time.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. In these days when Christians are virtually mocked by the politically correct brigade, it was a joy to participate with so many others in such a lovely service. Even though there were a lot of people in the grounds, the general atmosphere was one of peacefulness and holiness.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The discovery of such a haven of calm and tranquillity, despite the combine harvesters!