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Retired priest discovers lost 16th-century hymns to ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’


Zarateman | CC BY-SA 4.0

J-P Mauro - published on 11/08/21

Fr. Michael Rear has ensured the hymns' survival by publishing them in the appendix of his new book about Walsingham Priory.

Three hymns that once were lost have now been found at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, England. The forgotten texts to the hymns were discovered in the last surviving copy of the Walsingham Breviary. The last time they would have been performed in Church was prior to the Dissolution of Monasteries, in the 16th century. 

According to the Tablet, the discovery was made by a former parish priest of Walsingham, Fr. Michael Rear, while he was working on a second edition of his book, Walsingham: Pilgrims and Pilgrimage, which celebrates Walsingham’s 950th anniversary. 

The hymns

The hymns are altogether unique and the texts do not appear in the breviaries of other Augustinian religious houses. As the pieces are isolated in the Walsingham Breviary, they are believed to have been written by a hymnist who lived at Walsingham. These hymns were most likely never sung outside the 11th-century shrine.  

It is not known exactly how old the hymns are, but they refer to Our Lady of Sorrows by the much older moniker, Our Lady of Pity. The lyrics are written from Mary’s perspective and address the sorrow she felt upon witnessing the Crucifixion. Fr. Rear told the Tablet that the monks, who were living through the Dissolution of Monasteries, may have found the hymns especially poignant

“By then two of the choirmen had been hung, drawn and quartered – Ralph Rogerson and George Guisborough – and their sub-prior, Canon Nicholas Mileham.” He said, adding that they were condemned for their roles in a plot to save the priory, “They must have realized that the writing was on the wall; nothing would save their priory or their religious life now.” 


Walsingham reported on its website that the congregation revived the hymns on September 15, 2021. There, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the hymns were heard for the first time in centuries. With only the text to work on, the hymns were set to melodies used for other hymns, as is tradition. Walsingham listed the melodies they used: 

On this occasion we used ‘Westminster Abbey’ (more familiar to ‘Christ is made the sure foundation’), ‘Picardy’ (‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’), and ‘Rockingham’ (‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’).

Fr. Rear said that he hopes the hymns can become “as widely known as they are beautiful,” as they reenter the Catholic songbook. He has made sure they won’t be forgotten again by publishing them in the appendix of his book’s new edition. 

The shrine has not indicated that it has any plans to record them. Walsingham, however,

has been the topic several albums worth of hymns in the past
. The discovery of three 16th-century hymns could well be the impetus for another recorded collection in the future.

Read more at The Tablet.

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