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The English Lady

Our Lady of Grace, shrine and  famous pilgrimage site

Once a famous pilgrimage site which sat on the corner of Lady Lane and St. Matthew Street. Now long gone are the ancient medieval buildings, most of which came down in the '1960's revamp' of the area, and it seems with it the memories of a rich luxurious past which brought the affluent, the famous and the Royal to our borough in their droves, pushing the economic prestige and notability of Ipswich town ever upward.

The records of the shrine date back to the 13th century and show that we can almost exactly pinpoint it's position due to the fact that Ipswich's road layout has changed little since Saxon times. Its location was just outside the Westgate which was just a short way down Westgate Street and demolished in 1782. It sat on the corner of Lady Lane and is where a QD Store now stands.

The Ipswich 'Marion Shrine', as these were known across the country, was positioned in its own building which was often the case if the attached church was not dedicated to the Virgin Mary or the capacity of pilgrims was too great for the adjoining church to take in. At its height it was believed to be the second most popular pilgrimage site after 'Our Lady of Walsingham'.

Notable visitors and events were the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward I, to the Count of Holland in 1297 bringing much needed business to the maritime and ship building port of Ipswich. In the 14th Century both King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon both visited the shrine separately, staying with Lord Curzon on Silent Street. Other visitors included Anne Boleyn, our own Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Sir Thomas Moore.

In fact Sir Thomas Moore witnessed and recorded a miracle of 'Our Lady of Grace' involving the healing of 12 year old Anne Wentworth. In his book 'The Supplication of Souls' it describes how Anne, daughter of Sir Roger Wentworth, suffered from seizures in which she would spasm, blaspheme and speak of prophesy. After Anne had a vision of 'Our Lady of Grace' she was taken to the shrine and laid before the image of the Blessed Lady. Thomas described her as...."grevously tourmented and in face, eyen, loke and countenance so grysely chaunged...that it was a terrible syght to beholde". However, in front of the audience she recovered and was...."perfytely and sodeynly". Anne, in recognition of this miracle took her vows and became a nun.

During the reformation 'Our Lady of Grace' was removed and taken to Chelsea for burning and indeed Thomas Cromwell's steward reported that it had been received and had "nothing about her but two half shoes of silver".

Fast forward 400 years to a small town on the coast of Italy called Nettuno in the year 1938 a historian of 13th century iconography, called Martin Gillett examines the statue which the locals affectionately call 'The English Lady'. Gillett describes it as being in the English iconic style and notes it was wearing two half shoes made of English silver. Although the statue had been somewhat adapted, various clues such as the folds in the in her clothes and the child's position on the right knee instead of the left all seem to point to its English origin.

Then in 1959 whist the statue was undergoing restoration an inscription was discovered under her right foot it reads 'IU? ARET GRATIOSUS' which translates to ‘Thou art gracious’. It is well known that Ipswich was the only shrine in England dedicated to 'Our Lady of Grace'.

It is not known how the statue was snatched from it fiery fate but the story unfolds in the jubilee year of 1550 when it is believed she was smuggled away by sailors who set sail on route to Italy then running into a storm at Nettuno, they took refuge and in return for their safety they offered the statue to the people of this little seaside town.

Robert Mellamphy has created two sculptures in the town to remind us what a significant part 'Our Lady of Grace' played in the history and development of the town. In Lady Lane, the bronze memorial statue and St. Mary elms, the replica made from English oak.

If you have been interested in this piece of history you can find further reading at:
The Madonna of Ipswich: Stanley Smith, Published by Ipswich: East Anglian Magazine Limited, 1980
Miracles in Lady Lane: The Ipswich Shrine at the Westgate: John Blatchly, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Published by Ipswich: D K & M N Sanford

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