Our Lady of Grace of Ipswich
The shrine to Our Lady of Grace at Ipswich received its first recorded mention in 1152. In 1297 Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward I, married the Count of Holland in the shrine.
Between 1517 and 1522, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon paid separate visits to the shrine, as did Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was born in Ipswich.
The site of the original shrine is marked by a plaque in Lady Lane, a short distance from St Mary Elms. During the Reformation the shrine was destroyed and its famous statue was taken on the 20th September 1538 to Chelsea to be burnt.
However, in the Italian seaside town of Nettuno, south of Rome, the local church displays a very old wooden statue of the Madonna and Child known locally as “Our Lady of the Graces” or “The English Lady”.
The statue is reputed to have been brought there by English sailors, taking refuge from a storm, with a story of their having rescued it from being burnt in London. The back of the statue has inscribed on it the words “Thou art gracious” in archaic English. A number of other similarities to the description of the original statue make it probable that the statue in Nettuno came from the Ipswich shrine.
In 1977, the Guild of Our Lady of Ipswich (later renamed Meryemana) was founded with two aims – to pray for Christian Unity and to plan and achieve the re-establishment of the shrine of Our Lady of Grace at Ipswich.
On 10th September 2002, 300 people came to the ceremony in which the Statue of Our Lady of Grace was blessed and installed by the Bishop of Richborough in the church of St Mary at the Elms. The statue, a replica of the statue at Nettuno, was carved by local artist Robert Mellamphy. The ceremony took place in the presence of the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Roman Catholic Dean of Ipswich (Monsignor Peter Leeming), Father Andrew Philips of the Orthodox Church and the Reverend Elizabeth Bellamy of the Methodist Church.
Those present heard readings from the Bible and the Qur’an relating to Mary, and joined in prayers for peace and unity read by the Meryemana group. Mgr. Leeming preached about the love of Mary and how she points us to Jesus.
The Meryemana Group is named after the house in Ephesus where Mary is believed to have lived in later life. It is a place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims, who worship God together in peace under one roof – Mary’s roof.
The Group believes that Christians can work, study and pray together in harmony under the motherly care of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They also believe that the hand of friendship can be extended to people of all faiths, showing the same warmth with which Mary greeted her Son’s friends. Members continue to meet for prayer, friendship and learning.