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When England Was Catholic

Hugh O’Reilly
When England was Catholic, she proudly boasted that the Feast of Immaculate Conception was founded in that Land of Mary in 1066 in consequence of this miracle of the pious Abbot Helsyn (Helsinus, Elyn or Elsinus).


The Abbot called upon the Virgin Mary
to save the ship

It was the year 1066 and the good and pious Helsyn, Abbot of Ramsey, set off on a peace mission to Denmark on behalf of William, Duke of Normandy. It was shortly after the Norman Conquest when the Danes, shocked at the invasion of Britain and the defeat of Harold by the Normans, were planning a counter-attack.

The mission was successful, to the great fury of the Devil. Since he could not stir up war between the peoples, he determined to stir the waters of the sea.

On his return to Britain the Abbot was caught in a freak storm that threatened to sink the ship.

In confidence, even when human hope disappeared, he and his entourage called on the protection of the Virgin Mary.

The Heavenly Queen was quick to respond, sending an Angel who told them:

"The Heavenly Virgin has heard your plea. She is disposed to answer it, but she requests that upon your return to the Abbey of Ramsey, you should begin to solemnly celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the day of December 8. Fear not, for she will calm the waters and you will be saved."

The Abbot made no delay in agreeing to this command of Our Lady, and the storm miraculously abated and they continued safely to shore, as she had promised.

That Feast Day began to be celebrated first in the Abbey of Ramsey and, shortly afterwards as news of the request of Our Lady and her miracle spread, in all the Benedictine Monasteries in England, which took up this practice.

It was not long before enthusiasm for this Feast was taken up by St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict and Bishop of Canterbury, who spread the devotion throughout the Island. The monk Eadmer (106-1128), disciple and biographer of St. Anselm, had a particular devotion to this Feast Day and wrote the Treatise on the Conception of Mary.

Immaculate Conception

The Glorious One

Adapted from The Serpent and the Rose, by Lesley K. Twomey,
The Netherlands: Leiden, 2008, pp. 15,16

Posted December 11, 2021

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