Church

Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, Caversham

Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, South View Avenue, Caversham, Reading RG4 5AB

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Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, Caversham

Caversham’s shrine sits on a one-day pilgrimage to Reading Abbey

Caversham is a fine starting point for a journey across Britain’s sacred landscapes. Miracles led to popular acclaim, a culture of devotion grew up alongside a rich and powerful church infrastructure. Then came ruin, near obliteration as the edifice was swept away in reform, Caversham’s miracle-working statue of the Virgin Mary swallowed up by flames. Yet popular memory lingers long when embedded in the landscape, the connection between people and place that religion can do so well.

Highlights:

  • RC church: medieval statue of Our Blessed Lady in modern shrine chapel
  • St Peter’s Church: site of medieval shrine
  • Holy well (dry)

Pilgrims flocked to Caversham in the Middle Ages to venerate a statue of Our Blessed Lady, housed in a purpose-built church near the river. Even the location of this former medieval chapel is uncertain today, so complete was the destruction. Yet in a quiet way the shrine and its pilgrims are back. The new statue is in a Catholic church about half a mile east of where the original shrine stood. The church is in a quiet suburban street by a school, its statue in a side chapel at the end of the north aisle. I spent a peaceful morning here alone, with just a volunteer cleaner in the main building for company. The church is also equipped to cater for larger pilgrim groups. A five-mile pilgrimage along the river Thames to Reading Abbey (below) calls on Caversham’s shrine, while a much longer route stretches to Southampton.

The current shrine effigy was bought in a London antique shop in the 1950s. In a pleasing historical link it is thought to be medieval, predating the Reformation. It is made of oak darkened by age, traces of gilding and paint still visible.

The statue is a common medieval depiction of the Virgin Mary nursing the infant Jesus. It was installed when the chapel was opened in 1958, an extension to the Victorian-era building. You can identify it from the outside with ease: the church is brick, the side chapel stone. The church is often open, and if closed you can still see the statue through a squint window facing the street. By clever design, you have to kneel to see the Blessed Virgin through the angled slot.

As for Caversham’s original shrine, it was probably near the current St Peter’s parish church, on the other side of town to the west.

There are only historical rather than spiritual reasons to visit nowadays. It was a particularly ancient foundation, first mentioned in 1106 when Duke Robert of Normandy presented a relic relating to Christ’s Passion that he acquired on the first Crusade. The shrine was clearly already well known and might have been Saxon in origin.

If you do decide to visit the grounds of St Peter’s Church, there is also the disused St Anne’s Well a short walk away. Its water was once famed for miraculous powers of healing. It has a deep well shaft but is now completely dry.

Reading Abbey

The ruins of another great religious foundation are just a mile away from Caversham’s modern Catholic shrine, across the River Thames. Reading Abbey sits on the edge of Reading town centre, in the Forbury Gardens public park.

Like Caversham, Reading Abbey attracted huge numbers of pilgrims. Its most precious relic was the hand of St James the Apostle, whose main shrine is the famous Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Reading Abbey gained much reflected glory from the presence of his hand, a gift from Empress Matilda in the 12th century. It is still a substantial site, though the interior rubble walls are greatly eroded.

The abbey was closed at the Dissolution and the relic, along with several others, was lost. During building work in 1786 a shrivelled hand was found among the ruins. Although not authenticated for sure, it has been moved to St Peter’s RC Church in Marlow where it is venerated. Marlow is 12 miles away, and the church is on St Peter Street.

The abbey never had control of the Caversham shrine, which was managed by the monks of Aylesbury. But they did build a bridge to it, incorporating chapels dedicated to St Anne and to the Holy Spirit at either end. This has been replaced by the modern Caversham bridge, which carries the A4155 over the Thames. Some stone from the original medieval bridge was used in the construction of the modern shrine chapel in the church of Our Lady and St Anne.

Directions

Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, South View Avenue, Caversham, Reading RG4 5AB

www.ourladyandstanne.org.uk

RC Church Shrine
W3W: script.aura.bliss
GPS: 51.4679N 0.9671W

Old Shrine
W3W: motel.gums.sadly
GPS: 51.4686N 0.9808W

Well
GPS: 51.4698N 0.9767W
W3W: hook.loses.cups

The church of Our Lady and St Anne is on the east side of Caversham, at the end of South View Avenue. It is open daily for Mass, but times vary, and the church suggests pilgrims make contact first to ensure the shrine is open.

The now defunct St Anne’s Well is on Priest Hill, just downhill from the junction with St Anne’s Road.

The postcode for this section of Priest Hill is RG4 7RZ. St Peter’s Church, where the original shrine might have been, is on the A4074 Church Road, on the corner with The Warren, at postcode RG4 7TH.

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Church

Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, Caversham

Our Lady and St Anne RC Church, South View Avenue, Caversham, Reading RG4 5AB

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