Seventy-Five years since the Cross Carrying Pilgrimage by Tim McDonald

This year 2023, is the 75th Anniversary of the 1948 “Cross Carrying Pilgrimage of Prayer and Penance for Peace”, when the 14 Wooden Crosses that form the Stations of the Cross in the Slipper Chapel grounds were brought to Walsingham from various towns throughout England and Wales.

400 men took part and were allotted to various towns or cities around the country that had been chosen as starting points for the pilgrimage.  All the groups gathered at their starting point on the evening of the 2nd of July and arrived in Walsingham on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel the 16th of July. Fourteen days walking, allowing the meditation of each station to be undertaken during a whole day’s walk.

Each group was made up of men only, it was 1948 after all, many of whom were ex-servicemen, teachers, seminarians, priests and religious, builders and unemployed. Some young women did however unofficially take part!

At a recent dinner at the Anglican Shrine celebrating the founding of the “Walsingham Camino”, I was approached by a gentleman (M. Munt) who had purchased an item from eBay that he thought should belong to the Basilica and National Shrine Archive.

It was a collection of 10 postcards and one lettercard that had been sent by Christopher Moore (pictured below), a walker with the Westminster Cross Carrying Group, one, each evening, to his family in Hendon, London NW4.

This generous gift is a tremendous record of the joys and hardships encountered by the pilgrims as they walked the rather strange route planned for the Westminster Cross. To stretch the walk over the 14 Days, having left East London, the walkers followed a mainly coastal path, with evening stops at: Ilford, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Kelvedon, Stoke-by-Nayland, Ipswich, Parham, Southwold, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, North Walsham and Cromer, having come from the South eventually entering the Holy Land of Walsingham from the North.

Some of Christopher’s observations are worthy of inclusion here.

From Card 1: I shall try to let you have a line from each night’s stopping place. It is almost more like an outing than a pilgrimage, we have been treated so well…

From Card 2: A terrific day today, rain all day and wet through on arrival”…blisters are doing nicely.

From Card 3: …An easy day today, only 12 miles and schoolgirls (Ursuline) from Brentwood came all the way keen to carry the cross and then to take our packs…if I could cut off my two little toes it would be more comfortable.

From Card 4: Shoulders a bit sore and feet somewhat painful at times but many are worse than I am…

From Card 5: A terrific day today, the heaviest so far as feet are proving a problem…  do not worry, Our Lady of Walsingham has us all well in hand.

From Card 6: We received such a welcome here that your evening card went unwritten…

From Card 7: Rain again on and off all day…Some of the most enthusiastic girls from Romford have come all the way…three of them played truant from school…Our toast at the pub ‘the skin of your feet!

From Card 8: Another 20 miles gone in a very bleak and sparsely populated country… Our thanks for the chocolate.

From Card 9: …Feet better but 28 miles tomorrow may mean another story, muscles beginning to complain mildly…

From card 10: The 28 miles nearly did me, but after a visit to a doctor my toes have a new lease of life…I am determined to finish.

From Card 11:  …no more till Walsingham, God bless and love to all, Christopher.

Christopher’s parents seem to have come to Walsingham for the end of the pilgrimage. In the Shrine archive we have a short memoir from one of the ‘girls’ from Romford. We intend to exhibit the postcards and the memoir in the Anniversary Exhibition.

Christopher Moore