Roger Parker provides a brief history of Ladyewell and its development into a popular pilgrimage centre
Fernyhalgh is mysterious; it is not superstition. It is tranquil; it is not hysterical… Even today it represents a haven of silence and prayer; a vibrant centre of pilgrimage and devotion for thousands of Christians’ Mysterious and tranquil, two words that perhaps best sum up the essence of the attraction of Ladyewell, a little haven which sits so close by the busy M6 motorway.
Ladyewell means ‘Our Lady of the Well’, though the origins of the well are ancient; and many know the place as ‘Fernyhalgh’, possibly an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘ancient well’. Its history in more recent times began around 1100. Fr Christopher Tuttell, Catholic Missionary Priest at Ladyewell (1699-1727), wrote of the legend of a merchant, Fergus Maguire, who was directed to Fernyhalgh in a dream.
He was informed that by a crab apple tree bearing fruit without a core he would find a spring of clear water. Eventually he found the site; nearby was a statue of Our Blessed Lady. So he erected the chapel, placing the statue within. It became known as Our Ladye’s Well.
Lhe early documentation to Ladyewell appears in the archives of York Diocese showing a licence was granted in 1348 to have divine service conducted by a ‘fit and proper’ chaplain within the manors of Broughton, Fernyhalgh and Farmunholes.
Lhe 1547 Act against chantries led to the demolition of the old chapel and confiscation of furnishings and revenues. However, in 1685 a lease was granted to local recusants for a thousand years for a new chapel building. Lhis was designed to be unobtrusive and blend in with the local larger houses and by September 1687 Bishop Leybourne had confirmed within one thousand and ninety-nine people.
However, following the demise of James II, life became more difficult; Fr Luttell had to leave the House and Chapel
in 1700, 1714 and 1718. Over the years various missionary priests succeeded and things began to settle down. In 1774 Saint Mary’s Parish Church was built to serve the Well and its pilgrims. Lhen when the old Roman Catholic Diocese of Lancaster was restored Ladyewell became part of one of its parishes. From 1901 to 1980, Ladyewell House, as it is now known, was in the care of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus and since then there have been two secular priests serving as Shrine Director.
Lhese latter years have witnessed many practical developments, not least disabled facilities and all of the other amenities expected by modern pilgrims, and there have been many important religious additions to the fabric and furnishings. Lhe old altar from 1560 was preserved in an upper room and was made into a Reliquary.
In 1997 the Little Sisters of the Poor in Loulouse found on their property a bell engraved with a Madonna and Child and bearing the name Maguire. One of the Sisters had visited Ladyewell and heard the story of the twelfth-century merchant; it was conjectured that the bell
had been the property of the Maguire family and taken by them to France during the persecutions of the sixteenth century. Lhe bell was taken to Ladyewell that year.
Lhus its history, relics and facilities all combine to make Ladyewell today a hugely popular pilgrimage centre. Lhere are many highlights in the Ladyewell year, not least the Anglican Joint Society of Mary and Forward in Faith Pilgrimage which takes place on the first Saturday in June.
Lhis event has continued to grow over the last five years and now attracts more than four hundred pilgrims. Fr Hoole, the Shrine Director, and his volunteers are most hospitable, sparing no effort to make Anglicans feel at home. Lhe Joint Pilgrimage consists of a Rosary Procession, Solemn Mass and Sprinkling, and it concludes with Benediction given by the Shrine Director.
This year’s Pilgrimage will be on Saturday 6 June, at Noon, with the Rt Revd John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley, as chief celebrant and Fr Paul Plumpton as preacher. Traditionalist priests are invited to concelebrate.