by Toni Vercillo
St. George’s Chapel, the burial place of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Philip, was built in the 15th century and originally dedicated to, and named, Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel when England was still very much Catholic — but ‘not being Catholic’ was not a crime; a time when England was lovingly referred to as Our Lady’s Dowry.
Then in the 16th century being Catholic became a crime, punishable by death, as Catholic Henry VIII declared himself ‘pope’ of the Catholic Church in England so he could grant himself a divorce since, Catherine, his Catholic wife had not yet bore him a son and heir which the Pope in Rome ruled was not a valid reason for Henry to divorce her.
Infuriated by that papal decision, and inflamed by the objections of his British subjects for imprisoning their beloved queen who suffered the unbearable pain of multiple miscarriages, still birth, and sudden infant death, Henry began a reign of terror on Catholic England by outlawing Catholicism. Catholics had the choice to convert or die (the same options we hear today from extremist Middle East terrorist groups).
In his rage, Henry burned to the ground Catholic Cathedrals, Catholic Monasteries, Catholic Churches, Catholic Convents, Catholic Chapels, and Catholic Shrines like the one in Walsingham built on the spot where Our Lady had appeared to Lady Richeldis de Faverches in 1061 and where many miracles had occurred.
Henry and Catherine had pilgrimaged to the Walsingham Marian Shrine to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a son.
Henry, quite literally, threw the Mother of God out of England by destroying the Shrine and burning the miraculous, wooden image of Our Lady of Walsingham because he felt she had not favored his petition for a son and heir.
The Catholic Priests, who heroically chose to remain in country, to minister to the persecuted Catholic faithful during one of the most violent and bloody periods in Britain’s history, were particularly targeted along with the Catholic laity. They were hunted down like wild animals, caught, hanged, drawn and quartered, and their decapitated heads placed on poles that lined the bridges of London so as to ‘encourage’ the Catholics of Catholic England to accept Henry as their pope.
The English monarchy’s bloody Reign of Terror against Catholics continued for the next 232 years except for the brief, three year reign of King James (1685-88)
And that is how Catholic England became Protestant England.
But that is not the end of the story.
Henry’s persecution of Britain’s Catholics had the consequence of raising up great Catholic Martyr-Saints in the Church, 430 to be exact, who intercede daily at the Heavenly Throne for their motherland, England. Among them:
* Thomas More, Catholic Lord High Chancellor/Martyr, whose decapitated head was placed on a pole on London Bridge * John Fisher, Catholic Cardinal/Martyr, whose decapitated head was placed on a pole on London Bridge. * George Croft, Catholic Priest/Martyr, beheaded in the Tower of London, decapitated head displayed on London Bridge. * Martin Condres, Catholic Augustinian monk/martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge. * Paul of Saint William, Catholic Augustinian monk/martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge. * Thomas Epson, Catholic Benedictine/martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge. * Robert Bird, Catholic layman/martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge. * William Bird, Catholic Priest/Martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge. * William Peterson, Catholic Priest/Martyr, hanged, drawn and quartered, decapitated head placed on London Bridge.
All of them chose fidelity to their Heavenly King over their loyalty to their earthly king.
You can read more about all the Catholic Saint/Martyrs created by Henry VIII at Catholic Apologist extraordinaire, Dave Armstrong’s excellent research at https://bit.ly/3fgmX2t.
But that is still not the end of the story.
In 1897, Pope Leo XIII commissioned and blessed a new wooden statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, that was carved in Oberammergau, and sent it to England to re-establish the Catholic Shrine, destroyed by Henry, at the Church of the Annunciation at King’s Lynn.
Leo XIII prophesied at the time, “When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England”, words repeated by Saint Pope John Paul II during his pastoral pilgrimage to the UK in 1982, the first visit ever for a reigning pontiff who was greeted warmly by Queen Elizabeth II.
As John Paul II began celebrating Mass in London’s Wembley Stadium, (non-coincidentally on Pentecost Sunday), the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was unexpectedly processed in by some of her devotees. Pope John Paul II directed the statue be placed on the altar, another first, as no image other than the crucified Christ had ever been allowed on a Catholic altar during the celebration of the Mass.
In 1931, the Anglicans of England had joined the Catholics of England in promoting and further expanding the re-established shrine at Walsingham.
The Anglicans and Catholics of England have come together at Walsingham. They are Our Lady’s Dowry as they gather annually on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Walsingham, September 24, for procession, prayer, and celebration of Our Lady’s return to England.
By the time the Day of Resurrection comes around, Philip and Elizabeth will rise from their tombs and find themselves in a, once again, very Catholic Chapel.