Double – decker chapel used by pilgrims in King’s Lynn

I suspect most people will know that the Norfolk village of Walsingham has been for centuries a place of pilgrimage. Auntie went to it last year from Sunderland on a coach. I’ve known about it for years but I’d never really though how people got there before they invented coaches or cars or any other vehicular transport. How did pilgrims get there in the Middle Ages before Mr Cromwell trashed the place in 1538? The answer seems to be that many of them came by boat and then walked. Certainly pilgrims from the continent would do that and they would have landed at King’s Lynn.

One relic of those days remains in King’s Lynn and that is the “Red Mount Tower” Here pilgrims could pause and refresh themselves before beginning the walk to the shrine at Walsingham. Some probably spent time giving thanks for a safe journey across the North Sea or indeed praying for a safe passage home.

The give-away of course is that Red Mount tower is really a pilgrim chapel – officially called the “Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount.”

The chapel was built as a wayside chapel. It was the work of Robert Currance from 1483 to 1485. It had some association with the Benedictine Priory (now King’s Lynn Minster). An upper chapel was added in 1506. If you think the interior roof of the upper chapel looks somewhat familiar, some would say that it was built by the masons who were responsible for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.

Of course the Benedictine Priory was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1537. Pilgrims no longer arrived   en-route for Walsingham, but somehow the chapel escaped the ravages of the reformers. Over the years it was converted several times and served as a gunpowder store, later a stable and in 1783 it was converted in to an astronomical observatory.

It is certainly a very striking site. The most recent restoration for visitors of this octagonal building has reinstated two chapels, a priest’s room, two circular staircases and an antechamber. Graffiti dating back before 1695 may still be seen in one of the rooms.

A strange place – with a strange history – which only served as a church for about 50 years of its life.

Worth a visit though once you can get there.