Our Lady of Godalming, uniquely MotherPosted on 4th September 2020

Christianity first came to Britain in the first century AD during the time of the Roman occupation. The gradual Christianisation of Britain meant that, by 686, most pagan shrines had been destroyed, allowed to fall to disrepair or had been re-dedicated to Our Lady or to Christian saints. 

The parish of Godalming (Surrey), complete with its own church and Marian dedication, was formally established in the 9th century. Inevitably, people increasingly opted to attend the more accessible church, dedicated to Sts Peter and Paul, rather than trek up the very steep hill to the now ancient shrine to Our Lady.

No record seems to have survived to describe the particular Marian dedication of the Godalming shrine. However, at the foot of the hill on which the shrine stands is a small spring which could have given rise to the name 'Ladywell' which long predates the presence of the Motherhouse of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM), who currently own the land. 

At some point after the murder of Thomas à Becket in 1120, the shrine became a wayside chapel on the 120-mile Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury and the tomb of its former archbishop. This would have increased its importance, so presumably archaeologists would, even today, find evidence of buildings dedicated to the care of footsore, weary and hungry pilgrims.

With the onset of the Reformation, the shrine fell into disuse but was never quite forgotten. When the FMDMs acquired the land, the field where the first chapel had stood was cleared and the present shrine erected over the spot. At each corner of the shrine are stones from the original church and, today, pilgrims once again pray at this sacred place. 

The first Mass to be celebrated on the site since the shrine fell into disuse took place on the Eve of the Nativity of our Blessed Lady, 7 September 1979. As one who was there, it was a very special occasion, celebrated as a warm, sunny day mellowed into late afternoon. There was a unique thrill, knowing that this was the first Mass to be celebrated at the shrine for 400 years. 

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