It is arguable that the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham would not exist as it currently does (at least not by name, and would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?), were it not for the life’s work of Alfred Hope Patten. His tireless work to build up pilgrimage to Walsingham has had a profound effect on both Anglican & Catholic Communions.
Alfred Hope Patten was born on the 17th November, 1885 in Sidmouth. He was something of a sickly child, and education was constantly interrupted by illness of one form or another, particularly at times of stress, such as examinations. The family also moved about a great deal, until ending up in Brighton (Hove actually) at the turn of the century, when Alfred Hope Patten discovered Anglo-Catholicism at St. Michael’s, Brighton, and he took to it like a duck to water, engaging in many and various Devotions, as well as the most severe fasts. As he got older he made visits to Belgium, and there saw continental devotion being lived at its fullest, without the fetters of anti-Clericalism and Freemasonry.
Patten also felt at this time a draw towards the Religious Life, but attempts to join already established communities did not work out, and eventually in 1911 he went to Lichfield Theological College to study for Ministry in the Church of England. However, come final examinations he had another illness and could not sit them. However, the Bishop of London took pity and ordained him deacon, to serve Holy Cross Cromer Street, under Fr Francis Baverstock, who first planted in the young Rev’d Patten’s mind the idea of restoring pilgrimage to Walsingham. He is buried near Hope Patten in the churchyard at Walsingham.
This idea of restoration of the Cult of Walsingham was further enhanced by Hope Patten’s second curacy, St. Mary, Buxted, Surrey. Here there was to be found a replica of the Holy House of Nazareth, built by Fr. A. D. Wagner, builder of so many of the Brighton “Shrine” churches. His Anglo-Papalist leanings were fully confirmed when as curate to W. Robert Corbould, at Good Shepherd, Carshalton Beeches.
His curacies stood him in good stead as a solid Anglo-Catholic party man, and in 1921 his chance came to take up the living of Great & Little Walsingham, with Houghton St. Giles. In 1922 he installed an image of Our Lady of Walsingham (based on the mediaeval seal of the shrine) in the Guilds Chapel (in the North aisle of the church), and in 1923 the first (deeply unsuccessful in terms of numbers) public pilgrimage came to Walsingham; this also coincided with the establishment of the Guild of Our Lady of Walsingham, locals who were willing to help with pilgrimages, particularly in terms of accommodation. Hope Patten was very much at the heart of the village community in Walsingham, particularly gifted in drawing young people to himself, and in getting them to sing and serve. He was also president of the village football team, somewhat surprisingly.
From these small seeds mighty oak trees grew: in October 1931 the image was transferred to the newly built Shrine and Holy House which is now so well known, and pilgrimage began in earnest, with sisters from the Community of St. Peter, and later the Society of St. Margaret (three of the original sisters’ successors have joined the Ordinariate) being recruited to look after hospitality and the sacristy. It was also at this time that Hope Patten took under his wing the young and extremely competent Derrick Lingwood, the son of the grocer. Lingwood was able to take over Patten’s more than chaotic paperwork and administration.
Patten was also able to garner support from other, more well known, sources in the Church of England, including the Abbot of Nashdom; Stephen O’Rorke, the retired Anglican bishop of Accra, as well as other notable personages, clerical and lay. These laid the foundations for the first College of Guardians, who, to this day govern the Anglican Shrine. It is run in such a way that it has no interference from the Church of England, and it is set in statute that if the college all convert to Catholicism, the Shrine may be given over to the Catholic Church. Now there’s something to pray about…
The Shrine continued to expand and grow in size and popularity, all under Hope Patten’s creative guidance. Not without failure, and in the face of fierce opposition. Not least from the Anglican Bishop of Norwich, who was not sympathetic to the cause in the least, and blighted the efforts to build up the shrine over many years. Though he and Hope Patten did come together against the proposed Prayer Book of 1928. The bishop feeling it went too far in its Catholicity and Hope Patten feeling it didn’t go far enough.
Patten’s great dream was to revive a community living under the rule of St. Augustine, and so he began the Community of St. Augustine in 1936. This would stagger along, and flounder, and lurch for the rest of Hope Patten’s life; he being the only member who was to remain constantly; he was not an easy man to live with; and membership of the Community was less a vocation to the religious life as a vocation to live with Alfred Hope Patten.
Patten was by no means a saint, though many thought of him as one. As Colin Stephenson puts it at the end of his book “Walsingham Way”: “…there were sides to his character which did not fit into conventional patterns of sanctity. There were delusions of grandeur, but there was also a very profound humility which hated any sort of self publicity. There was a sternness and in some ways a ruthlessness when he was crossed, but there was also an almost feminine tenderness to those in trouble. There was a loneliness and detachment, but a frantic desire for companionship and understanding. He was always conscious of his priesthood, and being a perfectionist he demanded of himself in this respect the standard he required in others”.
Hope Patten died on this day, at the end of the afternoon procession (attended by a great number of Anglican bishops, prior to the Lambeth Conference: a testimony to how far the Shrine had come in terms of acceptance by the church of England). He stepped behind a pillar (a priest should never be at a loss in front of his people) and collapsed; he was taken to his room in the college and died there a short time later.
It is easy to speculate: what would Hope Patten have done about the Ordinariate? Many will also have conflicting opinions about this. He had little interest in the Catholic Church in this country during his life; although an unwavering devotion to her on the continent. An interesting episode came to light, however, with the publication of Michael Yelton’s biography of Hope Patten: the night before his death, he was in conversation with a young friend, to whom he said “The time has come for you and I to become Roman Catholics, but we will have to discuss it later”. Who knows what might have happened had he lived a while longer?