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Our Lady of Ransom/Clemency/Walsingham

2009 September 25
by Gordon Reid

00-LadyI grew up in the Scottish Borders, where every little town had its own “Common Riding”, an annual festival which usually consisted in the election of a male and female pair to lead the festivities, especially in the “Rideouts”, in which a hundred or two locals would go on horseback round the bounds of the town, and also to visit the neighbouring towns for their own celebrations. Hawick, for example, had the Cornet and his Lass, Galashiels the Braw Lad and Braw Lass, Melrose the Melrosian and his Lass, etc. And of course there was rivalry between the towns, each one sure that their gala was better than the others. After some of the lads had partaken of good Scotch liquor, it was not unknown for the honour of their town to be defended with more than words!

This was a Protestant version of what goes on in many an Italian or Spanish village, where the representative of the place is not a young couple on horseback, but a Madonna. Each village would dress their Madonna up more elaborately than the next, and the float and flowers would be the pride and joy of the place. I remember reading a novel many years ago in which there was an amusing episode when the Madonna of one village met the Madonna of another village by accident ( the Processional routes had overlapped) and pandemonium broke out. Both statues were dumped, while the men (and women) of the villages fought a pitched battle. Both lots limped home with their dusty Marys, each sure they had won and vindicated the fact they all knew to be true, that their Madonna was much more powerful than the Madonna of the next village.

In these post-Vatican Two enlightened days, I’m sure all of that is in the past, though maybe not, for pious customs (however sub-Christian or pagan they are) die hard. And there is much to admire in the honouring of Our Lady by processions and having festivals in her honour. But the titles we give her, “Star of the Sea”, “Ark of the Covenant”, “Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, etc” must never cause us to forget that they all refer to the same Jewish girl who said Yes to God, the same Jewish mother who nurtured the Son of God, the same Jewish lady who stood by her Son’s Cross in agony of spirit. That’s what ┬ámakes her Queen of Heaven, Mother of the Church, and all the other lovely titles the Christian people have delighted to give her.

Our Lady of Ransom was the title given to Mary by the order that was founded to ransom Christians who had been enslaved by the infidels. St Clement’s version of this , echoing our Patron’s name, is Our Lady of Clemency.

And now in England, the Church has renamed the Feast “Our Lady of Walsingham” because of the famous shrine in the little village in Norfolk, restored in the Church of England by Fr Hope Patten after its destruction centuries before at the dissolution of the monasteries. This inspired the Roman Catholic Church to have its own shrine in Walsingham too. And at first, the shrines were in competition, like the Scottish Border towns or the Spanish villages, but thanks be to God (and our Lady of Peace), they now work together in every way they can. Rival processions never clashed, and I doubt if anyone ever said aloud “Our Mary is better than your Mary!” but RC visitors to the Anglican shrine were heard to say “They are really just Protestants playing at it”; and C of E visitors to the Slipper Chapel, the RC shrine, were heard to mutter jibes about “The Italian Mission to the Irish!”.

Now they share each others feasts and special days, while observing the present rules of their own Churches about intercommunion, for example. And both shrines could well use the Novena Prayer we say daily here in St Clement’s after Evensong, which begins: Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, glory of our church and Mother of all Christians…” ┬áMary has been a cause of division in the past, but I firmly believe she will be an important factor in the reunion of Christendom in the future.

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