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As the Reformation approached, royal greed caused a visit to the shrine at Willesden to ascertain what riches might be despoiled. Richard Mores' report to Thomas Cromwell gave a detailed description of the riches at St. Mary's Church: "Please it your mastershippe to understand that yesternyghte we came to Wilsden whereas we begyn mornynge to dispache our busynesse. With mannia other vanaties they have ther an image of Our Ladye in robes sarcenet and with stones with a vale withal of lace embroidered with pearles and other previous jewelles and gold and silver. There is an iron kanape and hangynges besyde divers clothes and sticks for candels and offeryngs of fine account for such a chyrche. The image is most certaynly abused with moche superstition mannia people coming to it from Kilborne and Paddyngtone and the neybourhoode. Yea, even at our cominge there were V folke praynge before it, two old men and a woman with a chylde and onne that had broughte an offeringe of flowers who when we dyd examin touchinge the idolytrous worshippinge of the image she did say that the flowers were for the autre of the chyrch with mannia other vanities. We did strip the image which we found to be of woode in color like ebon of ancient workmanship onli save the upper part is thoroughly playted over with silver". Unfortunately this letter has been shown to be a late Victorian fabrication, although it probably gives an accurate description of the image. The famous shrine at Walcourt in Belgium still contains a statue similar to that which was at St. Mary's. Finally "by the special motion of the Lord Thomas Cromwell, all the notable images unto which were made any special pilgrimages and offerings" were all taken away - those at "Walsingham, Ipswich, Worcester, the Lady of Willesden, and many others" - and burnt at Chelsea by the Lord Privy Seal in 1538. The shrine of Our Lady of Willesden and the church of St Mary were stripped of their treasures.

However, Cromwell was unsuccessful in his attempt to destroy the Church, and the fame and fond memory of Our Lady of Willesden survives to cause mention in the annals of history. A Dr Crewkehorne was summoned before the Archbishop of Canterbury [Cranmer] to relate his vision of the Trinity and that he had spoken with Our Lady. She had taken him by the hand and commanded him to serve as he had done in times past [in devotion to her], and to preach abroad that she wished to be honoured at Ipswich and at Willesden as she had been in old times; which the doctor said he would do. In 1549 Thomas Heywood published a satire which mentions the shrine at Willesden; as does the Book of Homilies, Part II, published in 1562.

After Fr. James Dixon because vicar of St Mary's in 1902 he introduced a statue of Our Lady in memory of a server. For 40 years this stood between the vicar's stall and the Chapel, but when the church was restored it was moved to its present position in the chancel. The statue, although pleasing, was unremarkable, and for a long time the people of St Mary's wished for something better - something more in keeping with their glorious past.

At last, the Parochial Church Council was able to commission Catharini Stern to carve the statue which now stands in the church - a new Black Virgin of Willesden - Our Lady, calm and dignified, Her Blessed Son, eager and expectant, His hands big with blessing.

Carved in limewood, this striking statue was placed in the church on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1972 and dedicated at the annual pilgrimage later that year by the Bishop of Willesden.

 

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