In late 2017, the Bishops of England and Wales decided to Rededicate England to Mary on March 29th 2020. Towards the end of 2019 we were approached by the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham (the English Catholic National Shrine) to carry out a campaign to promote this event. Knowing that this would be the most significant event in the life of the English Church in 2020, we gladly took on this project. At the heart of this work was the rediscovery of a distinctly English love of Mary, based in medieval history.
None of us could have foreseen what the world would look like on March 29th 2020 and just how much the context of this highly spiritual and very Marian event would change, but as we pivoted to address the coronavirus pandemic and as the churches closed, we found ourselves at the centre of what felt like an extremely providential moment in the history of our church.
‘This is your Dowry, O Pious Virgin Mary!’ King Richard II
The inspiration behind the Rededication was the original dedication of England to Mary by King Richard II in 1381 when he proclaimed over his Kingdom, ‘This is your Dowry, O Pious Virgin Mary!’ and gifted England to her. This meant that a lot of the source material we were working with was medieval and as such was already more challenging than most of our projects. We also needed to tell a few stories, the story of Mary, the story of the original English Dedication and the story of the English National Shrine to Mary, Walsingham, in medieval days referred to as ‘England’s Nazareth’. This wealth of medieval devotion to Mary had led to England being referred to as the ‘Dowry of Mary’, a title that we knew was problematic and would be difficult to translate to a modern audience.
As challenging as the nature of this project was, we were excited to discover these historical roots of the faith here in England, a history that is unfamiliar to many. This idea of rediscovering a lost story of a people, in this case the Catholics of England, was an exciting lense for us to see the project through.
We aimed to breakdown all of this rich material in a multi-media campaign, to engage the Church at every level and to get the story of the Rededication far and wide. This would mean engaging the Catholic press heavily, having a strong PR approach and also helping to facilitate the events of the Rededication. It was very important to us that this campaign reach as many as possible before the day itself so that people knew what it was that they were entering into and so that England could be truly blessed by this Rededication.
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary (Luke 1:38)
As it was clear to us that the language of this project posed the biggest challenge, we decided to name the official site and socials ‘Behold 2020’ and to describe it as ‘the official companion to The Rededication of England as The Dowry of Mary’. The word ‘Behold’ kept appearing in the source material we were exploring, both in Mary’s yes to God’s plan for her life (Luke 1:38) and in Jesus’ offering of his mother to John as his mother, which has been understood as a motherhood that extends to all Christians (John 19:26-27). The ‘2020’ of the title was to bring in the sense of history, that this was an occasion to mark with the same importance as the original dedication in 1381.
To keep the project from purely being a history lesson however, we had to uncover the heart of the stories we were telling. Ultimately, we honed in on the idea of the personal ‘yes’ to God’s will and that this is the most powerful prayer that can be prayed. This theme could be traced in all of these historical stories, in Mary’s ‘fiat’ through which salvation history unfolded, in the story of the English noblewoman Richeldis de Faverches who was instrumental in the creation of the Walsingham Shrine, and in King Richard II’s offering of his Kingdom - all could be seen as a ‘yes’ to the will of God in the midst of the messiness of life. This was an inspirational message that we knew would engage our audience, so we used this to frame all our narratives.
This theme also shaped our film series. We decided to ask dynamic figures how they had given their ‘yes’ to God in the way that Mary had, and how her example of total surrender to God’s will inspired them. This led to us filming interviews with Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow the founder of the international charity ‘Mary’s Meals’, with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a dynamic group of men living out a radical call to serving the poor and with Deacon Paschal Uche, a young man soon to be ordained, giving his life to God in the vocation of priesthood. For good measure, we also said a ‘yes’ of our own and took our team on the medieval pilgrim route to Walsingham to both to fully get into the spirit of the project and to carry out some documentary film-making.
‘“Woman, behold your son,” and to the disciple, “behold your mother.”‘ (John 19:26-27)
To unite the nation for the Rededication in a visual way, we decided that when churches, schools and communities signed up to be a part of the Rededication, they would be flagged on an interactive map on our site. This was a great way of visually showing the people of England as the ‘Dowry’ of Mary, keeping it as a living tradition.
Another highlight of the campaign was the ‘Dowry Icon’ commissioned by the Walsingham Shrine to mark the Rededication. This icon was presented to Pope Francis by Cardinal Vincent Nichols and was blessed by him. This brought a new wave of interest in the Rededication and we worked fast to secure permission for these photos from EWTN Vatican, releasing them to the Catholic press in a press release.
‘Please enrich that Dowry by offering to her the best that you can give.‘ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
By late February it was becoming clear that the Coronavirus would begin to affect life in the UK, and it slowly dawned on our team and the organisers of the Rededication that the events we had planned for the Rededication would have to be called off. The Rededication Mass in Westminster Cathedral was called off as was a reception at the National Gallery with the medieval painting of King Richard II Rededicating England to Mary, known as the Wilton Diptych.
We had to think quickly about how the Rededication would take place in this next context. As it was fundamentally a spiritual occasion, we knew that the Rededication could be carried out from home, that people could stream the service and the prayers could be prayed by the domestic church where they were. At this critical junction we made two big decisions, to livestream the Rededication Mass from the National Shrine of Walsingham and to open up the map on our site to home registration, not only churches and schools. These two calls to action were the new heart of our campaign and both saw huge engagement.
On Friday 20th March the Catholic Church in England and Wales suspended public Masses and other liturgies to delay the spread of the coronavirus, nine days before the Rededication was to take place, an event which had been placed on that date over two years previously. Over those extraordinary days, we watched as Catholic leaders all over the world turned to Mary. Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland, called for the whole of Ireland and its people to be consecrated ‘to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for protection’ from coronavirus. On March 25th, the Bishops of France called the French faithful to pray a Coronavirus novena to Our Lady of Lourdes. Pope Francis made pilgrimage on foot through the empty streets of Rome to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, to offer a prayer to the Virgin Mary in her title of ‘Salus Populi Romani’, meaning health of salvation of the Roman people. On March 19th, he called the world to a global Rosary. It was remarkable to see how prevalent Mary had become in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the Rededication took on a new spiritual importance.
As the day of the Rededication arrived we saw huge levels of engagement across our channels as our campaign peaked. Our sign up map had gone from 299 churches, schools and organisations before the virus to 2057 individual sign ups of homes from all over the world. The map has a total of 84k+ views. Our campaign film series had pulled in 95k+ views.
The biggest result of all however was the sheer volume of people who tuned in to the live stream - over half a million. In fact this number was so much larger than had been anticipated that it caused both the Walsingham site livestream and the churchservices.tv livestream to crash. Viewers were then redirected to YouTube to watch the Rededication there. In the end, the most important outcome of all was to give so many of the nation’s faithful a moment of spiritual solace in the eye of the storm.
‘She will stretch her protective mantle over our land and over all who live here.’ - Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Photos of the Icons reception in Rome are credit of EWTN Vatican.