From early times this place has been the centre of a special devotion to Our Lady (S Mary the Virgin) venerated under the local title of Our Lady of Egmanton.
This ancient parish church is dedicated to her, and it is of interest to note that it is the only ancient foundation under the protection of Our Lady for a wide area around, and here – until the destruction of 1547, her Shrine was a prominent feature and an object of devout pilgrimage.
As with so many shrines of Our Lady and other holy places, one is conscious that here is a special place, a sanctuary to the Mother of God.
In spite of the Reformation and later attempts to obliterate it, the sense that here is a place where prayer has been offered down the centuries still prevails.
There is a reference to the devotion here in the will of Richard Cuxton of Egmanton who died in 1531, and which reads “… .he gives his soul to God Almighty, St Mary and All Saints, and his body to be buried in the Church of Our Lady of Egmanton”.
We also have the pilgrim crosses cut or scratched by medieval pilgrims by the south door and in the north aisle. These crosses are generally believed to have been made by pilgrims in witness to vows made on the occasion of their pilgrimage to the shrine.
Churches where such crosses are to be found were either centres of pilgrimage as here, or on pilgrimage routes.
It is generally believed that the original image of Our Lady was placed on the north wall of the sanctuary, but there are those who suggest that it was in the north isle.
After the despoliation of the shrine and cessation of regular pilgrimages, nothing remained of the devotion but a dim local memory.
The present image of Our Lady crowned and with the Holy Child, was the work of Sir Ninian Comper, and was erected as part of a major restoration in 1897.
While the appearance of the original shrine is not known, the Comper image represents the type of figure that would have stood here in medieval times.
The restoration of the church was carried out by Comper at the wishes of the then patron of the living, Henry, Duke of Newcastle, a leading Anglo-Catholic layman, who lived at nearby Clumber Park. Soon, devotion to Our Lady of Egmanton was resumed.
By 1912 the Guild of Our Lady of Egmanton, a parish society, had been formed. Among the obligations, members promised to say for the parish, the Good Friday collect, one Our Father and one Hail Mary daily.
Individual pilgrims began to find their way to Egmanton, but it was not until Easter Monday 1929 that the first organised pilgrimage in modern times took place.
The parish priest at that time was Fr Silas Harris who did much to promote the shrine.
Most of the pilgrims came from Leicester, but there were also groups from Leeds, Sheffield, Lincoln, and from local parishes.
An account of the proceedings mentions the gift for the shrine of “a fine pair of silver candlesticks in memory of the late Fr A H Manning, formerly parish priest of Egmanton”.
Since that time, the number of organised and individual pilgrimages has increased considerably. In 1930 Fr Alfred Hope Patten, restorer of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, came with a group of his people and as a token of their pilgrimage, left a banner still to be seen in the shrine church.
The service registers contain the names of many well-known bishops and priests of the Anglo-Catholic movement who came to preach or lead pilgrimages.
On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee pilgrimage in 1979, the Lord Bishop of Southwell, The Rt Revd John Denis Wakeling preached at the High Mass and took part in the afternoon outdoor procession of Our Lady.
Today there are pilgrimages from dioceses, Forward in Faith groups and parishes of The Society, under the patronage of S. Wilfred and S. Hilda (the modern Anglo-Catholic Movement of the 21st Century).
The Society of Our Lady of Egmanton organises several pilgrimages each year, details of which can be found elsewhere on the website.