The Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury
The History of the Shrine
The foremost Church in Britain, the fount and source of all religion.
Legend says that St Joseph of Arimathea built a wattle Church when he came to these shores. Whether or not this is true, it is an historical fact that Glastonbury was the site of a very ancient Christian settlement.
When the Saxons arrived in Glastonbury in 658AD, there was already a Church here, which was known as the ‘Old Church’. This church, whose beginnings were already lost in the mists of time by the seventh century, was dedicated to Our Lady. King Ina’s Charter, issued around 694AD, granted land in Glastonbury, and referred to the ‘wooden basilica’ as Ecclesia Vetusta Beatissimæ Virginis – the Old Church of the Most Blessed Virgin. This document went further and described this Church as ‘the foremost Church in Britain, the fount and source of all religion’.
The little wooden church, dedicated to Our Lady at Glastonbury continued for many centuries, until 25th May 1184. Not long after building work on the Abbey and Church were completed, they was burnt to the ground in a great fire. Perhaps the old statue of Our Lady, so long an object of veneration in the wattle Church, survived the flames, but we will never know. Very soon after the fire, on the same holy ground, a new stone Church was built with the same dimensions as the humble Church it replaced. It was consecrated in 1186 and dedicated to Our Lady, and the ancient shrine, with its statue, was set up again.
During the Middles Ages, this shrine in Glastonbury was an outstanding centre of pilgrimage, attracting people from far and wide, and the monastery flourished under the protection of Our Lady.
King Henry VIII, overlooking his daughter and desiring a son, broke our country’s connections with our Holy Church. As Church and monastery fell before his desire for power and gold, so Glastonbury was soon in his sights. In September 1539 Henry’s commissioners in the name of the King arrived at Glastonbury. They stripped the monastery and shrine of its valuables and decoration, and as the last Abbot, Richard Whiting, resisted the destruction of this ancient place of devotion and love, he was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor on 15th November, on Glastonbury Tor.
From this date, it seemed that the memory of the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury had gone forever from England.
But nearly 400 years later, in 1925, a small Church was built and in 1939 the foundations of a new Church were laid. It would be dedicated to Our Lady and would be the successor of the ancient Shrine. This Church stands just across the road from the ruined Abbey, on land which formerly formed part of the Abbots park of Wirral.
In 1955, a statue bearing the ancient title, Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury was blessed by the then Apostolic Delegate, Most Revd Gerald O’Hara in the presence of Bishop Rudderham of Clifton Diocese. In the presence of thousands of faithful Catholics, and in the name of the Holy See, the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury was restored.
More honour was given to Our Lady when in 1965, the Apostolic Delegate, Most Revd Igino Cardinale crowned the statue, a privilege not frequently given and preciously guarded.
And so in this place, the ‘fount and source of all religion’ in our country, Our Lady is again given the praises which are her due, and pilgrims flood to ask her intercession in this Shrine in Glastonbury.