An extract from a play by Sam Savelli about history and pilgrimage in the North Norfolk village of Walsingham.
ACT TWO, PART TWO
On the left-hand side of the stage sits the Holy House of Walsingham. The water tower sits centre stage. On the right is the front of an inn, with the Innkeeper sitting at a table.
Enter the King, barefoot, and the Pastor, holding a journal and quill.
The Innkeeper jumps up. They sit themselves down at the table as she hurries into the inn.
King: There you go. I hope you’re getting this down. ‘Barefoot’ – ‘nudis pedibus’.
The Pastor writes. The King watches.
King: That’s it. Now, where are my shoes?
Pastor: [Reading it back] Regem Angliae nudis pedibus ad praeſentiam Virginis Maria.
King: Yes, that’s wonderful. God himself ought to read those words.
Pastor: Well, he is already witness…
The Innkeeper returns with goblets of wine.
Innkeeper: For his majesty.
The King snatches the goblet from her. She waits for him to taste it.
King: And he will expect no less of his “Defender of the Faith”. How much more can a man do for God?
Pastor: Truly, there is little more, sire.
The King sips his wine and waves a hand at the Innkeeper.
King: Yes, more wine. And something to eat.
She scurries back into the inn.
Pastor: We English, of course, being the servants of our heavenly mother’s special inheritance as her own Dowry –
King: Well, yes.
Pastor: – ought to surpass others in the fervour of our devotions.
King: And don’t I?
Pastor: Your heart belongs to her. Would the King of France so humble himself as to travel –
King: Nudis pedibus!
Pastor: Indeed, nudis pedibus! There is no greater love, your majesty, than your love for –
The Innkeeper returns with a platter of rich meats. The King’s eyes light up.
King: Bring it over, bring it over!
The Innkeeper sets it down before the King.
King: And the wine?
She scurries back into the inn again. The King eats with his hands.
Enter the Pilgrim. He stops and takes in the gorging King.
The Pastor shoots him a glare. He dutifully bows.
Pilgrim: Your majesty…
The Innkeeper returns with a jug of wine which she places on the table. The Pastor pours out more wine for the King. As they eat and drink, the Pilgrim catches the Innkeeper before she heads back into the inn.
Pilgrim: Hello! Excuse me.
She stops and turns to him.
Innkeeper: One moment.
Pilgrim: It’s me! I’m back!
Innkeeper: Should I know you?
Pilgrim: Yes! Yes, I… Never mind.
He takes out a handful of coins and offers them.
Pilgrim: Here. I’ll take one of your rooms, if you have one free.
She glances at the money.
Innkeeper: That won’t cover it.
She disappears into the inn. The Pilgrim looks down at his offering in surprise.
The other two continue to gorge.
King: As much as I love war, I have to say pilgrimage has the greater perks.
Pastor: Spoken like a true servant of God.
King: Instead of trying to kill you, those at your destination spare no expense in providing for you.
Pastor: They are moved to humble service by your piety, sire.
Pilgrim: [Muttered] By your purse, more like …
The Innkeeper returns with a second platter of meat. The Pilgrim intervenes in her path.
Pilgrim: So, how much are you asking for?
Innkeeper: A lot more than what you just showed me. Double it, then double it again, then double what you’re left with.
Innkeeper: Then probably double it once more for good measure.
Pilgrim: Well. There are plenty of other inns.
She sets down the platter for the King.
Innkeeper: You won’t find their rates to be so different.
She turns to head back into the inn. The Pilgrim blocks her.
Pilgrim: I don’t get it. You’ll drive people away from here like that.
She circles round him.
Innkeeper: There’s plenty who can afford it.
Pilgrim: But those who can’t? Our Lady of Walsingham is for everyone!
The Innkeeper disappears into the inn. The Pilgrim watches the King.
Pastor: What fine venison. Exquisite!
The King eats from a turkey leg.
King: God would reward me with nothing less than the best. I am, after all, his “Defender of the Faith”.
Pastor: Yes you did / say.
King: Did I mention that already? Never hurts to repeat it for the Lord’s celestial ears.
The Pilgrim walks away from the inn and goes to the Holy House. He enters and kneels.
Pilgrim: Blessed Mother, I have returned. And what do I find? Soften my heart, Blessed Mother, for I feel nothing but hatred for those around me. Why should I look to that richly dressed pig for guidance? Surely my own heart is purer already. Let me purify them. There’s injustice in this village. Am I called to fight that? Is that what you ask of me?
Pilgrim: Let’s hope so. Or I may never afford this journey again.
The King and Pastor have cleared the platters.
King: Glorious. Where do we head next, priest?
Pastor: Well. I would assume to Our Lady’s chapel.
King: Right you are. I have matters to bring before my heavenly mother. Let’s hurry now.
They get up and head towards the Holy House.
As the scene continues, the Innkeeper travels in and out of the inn to clear the King’s table.
The King stops and peers into the Holy House.
The Pastor nods in understanding. He heads into the chapel and taps the Pilgrim’s shoulder.
The Pilgrim stirs from prayer and looks up.
Pastor: The King of England is here.
The Pilgrim looks over his shoulder at the King. He gestures towards the statue.
Pilgrim: And the Queen of Heaven is here.
Pastor: Don’t get wise with me, son.
He gestures for the Pilgrim to get out. The Pilgrim doesn’t move.
Pastor: You care so little for your country that you would DEPRIVE your king…
The Pilgrim stands.
Pastor: Yes, good. This pleases God.
Pilgrim: And what would you do if I didn’t leave?
The Pastor is enraged. He grabs hold of the Pilgrim and drags him out of the Holy House.
The King watches this and makes his way into the Holy House. He kneels before the statue.
The Pastor pushes the Pilgrim away.
Pastor: Treacherous peasant!
He then joins the King in the Holy House, standing at the back while the King prays.
King: [Quietly] Blessed Mother, you know what it is that I ask of you.
The Pilgrim looks back, indignant. He storms back towards the inn. The Innkeeper is wiping down the King’s table.
He stares at her for a moment, then approaches. He pours a purse-ful of coins into his hand.
Pilgrim: Ok, look.
Pilgrim: This is all I have. I won’t ask for much. I’ll sleep on a floor. I’ll dine on scraps.
She continues wiping the table. The Pilgrim tips the money out onto the table.
Innkeeper: Still won’t do.
Pilgrim: Well what, what, what… WHERE do I go?
Innkeeper: It’s really not my problem.
She disappears back into the inn.
The Pilgrim pushes all the money back into his purse. He looks with resentment at the inn.
King: [Praying] Why, why, why do you not grant it to me? What more must I do for you?
The Pilgrim turns and heads back towards the Holy House. He slips into the back. The Pastor stares at him with rage.
The Pilgrim takes the flaming torch from the entrance and runs out. The Pastor chases him.
Pastor: Thief! Thief!
The Pilgrim takes the torch over to the inn. The Innkeeper wanders out of the inn. The Pilgrim runs into it with the torch.
Innkeeper: Hey, where are you going with that?
Smoke begins to billow from inside the inn. Flames appear in the window.
Innkeeper: You low-life scum!
The Pastor points and shouts.
Pastor: THIEF AND ARSONIST!
Through the windows, the flame grows and more and more smoke appears.
The King, oblivious, continues his prayer loudly now.
King: A SON! All I asked for was a SON!
The Pilgrim runs out with the torch, coughing and spluttering a little.
The Pastor hops on the spot and condemns the Pilgrim.
Pastor: The prophet Isiah spoke of the likes of you! ‘Disaster, sinful nation, race of wrong-doers, perverted children! They have abandoned the Lord, despised the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away from him!’
King: A boy to take my throne, THAT IS ALL THAT I ASK! Do you hear? DO YOU HEAR!?
Pastor: [To Pilgrim] ‘Where shall I strike you next if you persist in treason? The whole head is sick, the whole heart is diseased. From the sole of the foot to the head there is nothing healthy.’
The King is tearful.
King: I don’t understand. I DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU. YET THIS ONE THING YOU WILL NOT GIVE ME. A SON. A SON. A SON.
The Pilgrim approaches the Pastor and the Innkeeper with the torch and they lurch back as he shouts at them.
Pilgrim: And Isiah goes on: ‘Woe to those who think themselves wise and believe themselves enlightened. Woe to those who call what is bad, good and what is good, bad.’
The Pastor joins in.
Pilgrim & Pastor: ‘Woe to those who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness.’
Pastor: [To Pilgrim] Yes, he speaks of sinners like you!
King: GIVE ME A SON. THAT IS AN ORDER. YOU MUST GIVE ME WHAT I WANT.
The Pilgrim glares at the Innkeeper.
Pilgrim: And who does he speak of when he says: ‘The faithful city, what a harlot she has become!’
Innkeeper: You, it’s all you!
Pilgrim: ‘All of them GREEDY for presents and eager for bribes.’
King: I SHOWER YOUR CHAPEL WITH RICHES AND WHAT DO I GET IN RETURN? A WRETCHED DAUGHTER AND A NEAR-BARREN WIFE!
Pilgrim: ‘Rebels and sinners alike will be destroyed.’
The Pilgrim turns and runs off stage.
The King stands and storms out of the chapel.
The Pastor turns to him and the King beckons for them to leave. The King exits and the Pastor follows. The Innkeeper stands distraught, watching smoke billow from within her inn.
Enter Richeldis carrying two wooden buckets. She passes one to the Innkeeper. They both chuck water from the buckets into the inn. The flames and smoke recede.
Richeldis puts a comforting arm around the Innkeeper. She leads her off-stage.
Beat. The Walsingham melody begins to play.
The Pilgrim returns. He stares at the inn as the last wisps of smoke remain. He runs to the Holy House and falls to his knees.
Pilgrim: Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners.
Pilgrim: Pray for me, a sinner. Pray for me. I don’t deserve to be forgiven. Not this time. Blessed Mother, I made a promise to you. But every day I fall short. Why should I promise you that I won’t sin when I know I’ll sin again? Why should I be forgiven when you know I’ll sin again?
Pilgrim: I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy! Am I?
A ray of light illuminates the statue.
Richeldis: You know what the answer is by now.
The Pilgrim is tearful, alarmed.
Pilgrim: I… am worthy?
He prostrates himself.
Pilgrim: I have no words. That you would pray for me. That you still have faith in me.
He kneels up again.
Pilgrim: How could I lose faith in you?
A Villager enters holding the flaming torch. He climbs the water tower and sets the beacon alight.
Pilgrim: I must do better than to sin again. I want to do something for you, Blessed Mother. What can I do for you?!
The Innkeeper enters, gazing at the beacon. The Villager stands in front of the water tower, waiting for more people to gather.
The Pastor enters holding a candle snuffer. He goes into the Holy House.
The Pilgrim watches as he goes to the front of the chapel and snuffs out the King’s candle.
Pastor: Apologies for the disturbance.
Pilgrim: No, but… that’s the King’s candle!
Pastor: [Grim] Indeed.
Pilgrim: You can’t do that!
Pastor: The King’s own orders.
Pastor: Have you not been hearing the rumours?
Pastor: The King resents his wife for not giving him a son and heir.
Pastor: He wants a divorce.
Pilgrim: Sure, but the candle…
Pastor: The King intends to break with Rome.
The Pastor leaves the Holy House. He sees the beacon alight and goes to stand by the water tower. Richeldis joins this gathering too, unacknowledged by the others.
The Pilgrim gets up and leaves the Holy House. He sees the beacon too and wanders over to the gathering.
Pilgrim: What’s going on?
Villager: An urgent meeting of all who are loyal to Our Lady of Walsingham.
Pilgrim: That’s me.
Innkeeper: Is there news of the King?
Villager: Terrible news.
Pastor: Pray tell.
Villager: The King’s men are coming.
Shocked reactions from those gathered.
Innkeeper: Is it as we feared?
Villager: Exactly as we feared.
The Pastor does the sign of the cross.
Pastor: Then God help us.
The Pilgrim is confused.
Pilgrim: What? What is it!?
Villager: The King has turned against us. He intends to tear down every holy building…
Innkeeper: And take the wealth for himself!
Villager: Nowhere is safe. The priory, the friary, the parish church…
Pilgrim: The Holy House?
Pilgrim: No! But, the King would never –
Innkeeper: [Scoffs] Do you know our king? What he’s become.
Pastor: My brothers and sisters, I fear this could be the end of Walsingham.
Villager: There’s little we can do.
Innkeeper: We can get away from here before they arrive.
Villager: And we must warn the friars and canons. Make sure they’re safe too.
The Pilgrim steps into the middle of the group.
Pilgrim: Woah! Hold on a minute.
Pastor: Something you want to say my child?
Pilgrim: Yes! Are we going to let them tear down Walsingham?
The Pilgrim swipes the torch out of the hands of the Villager and brandishes it.
Pilgrim: We must stand to protect Our Lady of Walsingham!
He looks at each one of them.
Pilgrim: She is there for us at every turn, and you want to just abandon her? This is our chance to do something good and holy for our Blessed Mother.
Innkeeper: He’s right.
Pastor: You’re not actually suggesting we… fight the King’s men?
Pilgrim: And why not?
The Pastor does a flustered sign of the cross.
Villager: Yes. Why not?
Pilgrim: If the King intends to turn against Walsingham then he is turning against his own country. We will protect the Holy House. We will protect it:
The Pilgrim thrusts the torch into the air.
Pilgrim: For Mary and for England!
All: For Mary and for England!
End of Act Two.