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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Henry Walpole, Burnham Market

Burnham Market: unpretentious St Henry

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like a rural fire station

  St Henry Walpole, Burnham Market

Unpretentious St Henry sits like a rural fire station on one side of Burnham Market's green, opposite Burnham Westgate church. It is a chapel of ease to the Catholic parish church of Little Walsingham, and as such has no liturgical imperative to be kept open; but it is, unlike some East Anglian Catholic parish churches which should be, but are not.

Inside, it is utterly humble and simple, a plain altar and tabernacle forming the sanctuary. There is a Walsingham statue of course, but otherwise nothing that intrudes into the simplicity. Even the stations are paper prints.

The church was built in 1959, and originally dedicated to the Blessed Henry Walpole. Walpole was one of the hundreds of Catholics murdered by the Elizabethan thought-police under the 1585 Act against Jesuits, seminary priests and such other like disobedient persons, which made it an offence for a Catholic Priest to have been present in England after June 1559, and for any person to have assisted them. Lay people were hanged to death, ordained Priests suffering a much more disgusting death. As James Walsh, in Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, wrily remarks, sometimes secondary charges were added.

Walpole was just one of several martyred Catholic priests with a connection to Norfolk. He was born at Docking, about eight miles from Burnham Market. After attending Cambridge University and training to be a lawyer in London, he went to the University of Rheims to study for the priesthood. Further study followed at the English College in Rome, and he was ordained a Jesuit priest in Paris in 1588. Being so highly educated, he ended up a teacher himself at English seminaries in Spain and Flanders, before finally being allowed to return to the England he loved to work with ordinary people.

On the 4th December 1593, he was put ashore at Flamborough Head in Yorkshire. Betrayed, he was arrested within twenty four hours, and taken to the Tower of London to be tortured. A broken man, he was returned to York for his trial and sentence, and on the 7th April 1595, some eighteen months after his return to England, that sentence was carried out. In front of a large crowd in the centre of the city, he was hung by the neck until he lost consciousness, and then taken down and revived. His stomach was slit open, and his intestines wound out on a windlass to be burned before his eyes. His arms, legs and genitals were cut off and committed to the flames. Finally, he was beheaded.

On 25th October 1970, Walpole was one of a sample of forty of the Martyrs who were canonised by Pope Paul VI. As St Henry Walpole, this little church was rededicated, and I suppose that it is as proud of its Norfolk son as any of the Burnhams are of theirs.

Simon Knott, May 2005

 

St Henry Walpole simple, humble, beautiful
'to see the heavens open' Our Lady of Walsingham Our Lady of Walsingham 

The Burnhams
Deepdale I Norton I Overy I Priory I St Henry I Sutton I Thorpe I Ulph I Westgate

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk