A shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary is currently undergoing restoration in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster.
In the Middle Ages the Shrine of Our Lady in the northern English town was one of the country's most important pilgrimage sites. It was located in the priory of the Carmelite Friars, and became specially prominent after the intercession of Our Lady was deemed by the townsfolk to have saved some people from drowning in the River Don.
Though the Carmelite priory and its shrine were destroyed at the Reformation in the sixteenth century, in the Victorian period devotion to Our Lady of Doncaster was revived in one of the town's Catholic parishes. In the twentieth century the shrine was transferred to the parish church of St Peter-in-Chains, and in the early years of the twenty-first century the parish decided to renovate the shrine.
The Shrine is now complete (with the exception of some additional lighting to be installed) and has been greatly admired by Christians of different denominations. The Carmelite Order's crest is mounted on the wall alongside other crests of groups and individuals associated with the history of the Shrine
The Prayer Garden is a particularly attractive feature of the Shrine. The paths have been landscaped, raised flowerbeds installed, and three stainless steel stars have been put into position; these stars are derived from the crest of the Carmelite Order and originally marked the site of the Carmelite Priory in Doncaster's Priory Walk Shopping Centre.
Around the Garden perimeter, Stations of the Cross have been erected, each of them incorporating a fragment of stone from a religious establishment dedicated to Our Lady and destroyed at the time of the Reformation (including Aylesford Carmelite Priory).
The fifteenth Station - marking the Resurrection of Christ - contains a fragment of stone from the Altar Step of the original chapel built in Rome by Constantine the Great to house the relics brought from Jerusalem by his mother St. Helena. Four fragments of carved stone at the base of the Station were given by the Dean of York Minster, which was built on the site where Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of Rome in 306 AD. One legend is that St Helena was a Briton born at Chesterfield where there was a well dedicated to her in the medieval period; if true, she came from the area now covered by the Diocese of Hallam, which now commemorates as a memorial the Feast of Our Lady of Doncaster on 4 June.
A fountain has been set in the middle of the Garden; the central stone appropriately comes from Fountains Abbey, courtesy of the National Trust.
The votive candle holders at the Shrine incorporate a lily design (a symbol of Mary's purity) and waves representing the River Don. The British Province of Carmelites paid for the restoration of one of the statues of the Apostles on the wall behind.
The work of developing the Shrine is overseen by the Parish Priest of St. Peter-in-Chains, Fr Augustine O'Reilly, and a team of 'Shrine Guardians'. The latest person to join this team is Johan Bergström-Allen, a member of the Carmelite Third Order who works for the Projects & Publications Office of the British Province. Johan was invited to join the Guardians group - which includes fellow Lay Carmelite Walter Whitman (leader of the Sheffield Lay Carmelite community) - as a way of further deepening the link between the Shrine and the Carmelite Family.
A newsletter updating supporters of the Shrine is available to those who become Friends of the Shrine of Our Lady of Doncaster. Enquiries about membership can be sent to: The Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Doncaster, St. Peter-in-Chains Church Presbytery, Chequer Road, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN1 2AA.The statue of Our Lady of Doncaster at the Shrine in the Church of Saint Peter-in-Chains.
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