Procession at London's oldest Marian shrine

 The annual celebration of Our Lady of Willesden takes place this Sunday, May 11. The procession will leave the church at 3pm and walk towards the Convent of Jesus and Mary for an open-air service with Benediction and a Blessing of the Sick. Abbot Francis Rossiter OSB will be the preacher. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the procession. Dating back to the mediaeval times, Our Lady of Willesden is the oldest Marian shrine in London. A holy well said to possess miraculous properties gave its name to the place (Willesden is said to mean 'spring at the foot of the hill'). Little is known about the origins of this well, though it seems to have been connected to the church of St Mary, and was mentioned in a royal charter in 939. Likewise, little is known about the origins of the devotion to Our Lady of Willesden. A Visitation report of 1249 mentions the presence of two statues of Our Lady, one of which must have been the 'Black Madonna' (probably encrusted with gold, silver and precious jewels), which was burnt in 1538 during the Reformation. By this time the shrine had become famous and pilgrims in their thousands, had journeyed to the sanctuary in the heart of leafy Middlesex. It reached its zenith at the turn of the sixteenth century, when the shrine was visited by royalty (Queen Elizabeth of York) and the future martyr, St Thomas More. The shrine of Our Lady of Willesden was renewed and restored in 1895. The present statue was made in 1892. In recent years, a new saint, Josemaria Escriva prayed at Willesden several times. The Rev Nicholas Schofield, who is being ordained priest at Willesden on 24 May, told ICN that next year marks the 50th anniversary of the crowning of the statue of Our Lady of Willesden by Cardinal Griffin, during the Catholic festival at Wembley Stadium in 1953. The Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden is at the junction of Acton Lane, near the Jubilee Clock in Harlesden, five minutes walk from Willesden Junction Station.

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