John Blatchly & Diarmaid MacCulloch: Miracles in Lady Lane; The Ipswich
Shrine at the Westgate (J.M. Blatchly, 2013)
This book gives a remarkable insight into a lost chapter of Ipswich history.
It contains primary research and fascinating hypotheses concerning the
precise location of the lost Shrine of Our Lady of Grace just outside the
town's Westgate and its fate.
The images at the back: an anonymous watercolour painting and an 1875
photograph show the almshouses built along either side of Lady Lane by
Edmund Daundy at some time before his death in 1515. It is difficult to
believe when one sees the rather bleak (and short) Lady Lane today.
Ironically, these ancient, single storey buildings dating back to Tudor
times were demolished as recently as 1877. Daundy happened to be the uncle
of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey the second most powerful person in the country
after the King. These almshouses were on the site of the 14th century St
John's Hospital almshouses built for the poor of the parish of St Matthew.
They adjoined the shrine chapel which stood just outside the Westgate
(perhaps on the site of today's Franklin's haberdashery shop and QD store on
St Matthews Street). The shrine chapel stood on the site of - or used the
same structures as - the chapel of All Saints which, although not mentioned
in Domesday, had early Norman decoration.
All Saints is first mentioned in documents of 1219, but is certainly
earlier, and over time the name changed to the chapel of 'Our Lady of Grace'
or Gracechurch. On January 8th, 1297 a royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth,
daughter of King Edward I, to the Count of Holland took place in the shrine
chapel, then one of England's major shrines of Marian pilgrimage. Edward I
stayed in the town for the ceremony with 'a splendid court'. Many pilgrims
were to follow in the ensuing years.
By 1327 documents record the recent discovery of an image of the Blessed
Virgin, perhaps beneath the flooring of the chapel, and 'several great
miracles had taken place'. Attracting further royal attention and becoming
prosperous in the 14th and 15th centuries, the chapel of Our Lady of Grace
can be seen as a younger sibling of the Marian shrine at Walsingham in
Norfolk. The scene was set for a 'miracle' concerning the 'Maid of Ipswich'
in 1516 when the twelve year old daughter of Sir Roger Wentworth of Gosfield
(twice MP for Ipswich who lived at Thaxted in Essex), in a tormented state
had a vision of the Virgin. She demanded to be taken to the shrine of Our
Lady of Grace in Ipswich and was apparently cured in a tumultuous fashion.
One notable witness was that most important resident of the town, Lord
Curson who lived in his mansion on St Nicholas Street; he wrote down his
account of events for the King.
Queen Catherine of Aragon visited the shrine in 1517, followed by Cardinal
Wolsey, papal legate and Lord Chancellor, the same year and finally by King
Henry VIII himself in 1522. Both royal visitors stayed at Curson House,
during their visits. This patronage meant that it was boom time for the
shrine and a number of hostelries jockeyed for custom from visitors and
pilgrims. At the other end of town The Salutation public house survives
today with its name evoking the Annunciation.
Wolsey's intention to establish a 'college' school to rival the likes of
Eton College which would be linked to the shrine took shape around the same
time. The Papal Bulls for his Cardinal College Ipswich were not in place
until 1528. Opposition to worship of graven images and idolatry from
Lollards, William Tyndale and, locally, the preacher Thomas Bilney was
growing as the shrine became more famous and prosperous. In 1529 Wolsey was
stripped of his government office and property by Henry VIII and Wolsey died
From 1536 and under Wolsey's former servant, Thomas Cromwell, the
Reformation and establishment of the Church of England progressed. Five
Ipswich monastic establishments were dissolved along with so many others.
The days of the already struggling Ipswich shrine were numbered and
eventually the building was stripped of valuables and building materials.
Evidence of its existence seems to have survived until the mid-18th century.
The seductive conspiracy theory that the Ipswich sculpture was not burnt at
Chelsea, but smuggled from London by Catholic sailors and taken to Italy is
dismissed by the authors of Miracles in Lady Lane out of hand. The style of
the carving of the image in Nettuno is much later than the statue of the
Virgin which was rediscovered in the Lady Lane shrine chapel by 1327. Also,
those involved in the purging of idolatry from Thomas Cromwell downwards
knew the importance of the removal of the image and its public burning;
their failure to do so seems very unlikely.
This book is a fine addition to the rich roller-coaster of the history of
(Both the Tourist Information Centre and Waterstone's stock
Miracles in Lady Lane at £12.)