Ipswich represented at a very special Italian procession 

Cardinal Wolsey visits Nettuno and a sacred shrine  with Suffolk connections 

The Thomas Wolsey 550 Project is very lucky to have the support of one of the UK’s best Cardinal Wolsey re-enactors – Phil Roberts. 

Not only does Phil bear a striking resemblance to the great man himself but years of dedicated research means he is a leading expert on all things Wolsey. So much so that last year, he published a book on the great man (Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country published by Pen and Sword Books.) 

Recently Phil made a very special journey to Italy to a town with a fascinating bond to Ipswich.  

Phil said: “Not many people know that Ipswich once had a very popular shrine containing an image of The Virgin Mary and Child. Known as a Marian shrine, it was only second to ‘England’s Nazareth’, Walsingham in Norfolk.” 

A group of seven people dressed in opulent period costumes stand in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and Child in a golden setting with candles. In the background is an alter with a large silver cross standing on it.

Back in Tudor times, people from all over the country made the pilgrimage to Ipswich to visit the shrine which is believed to have been located close to Lady Lane in the town centre. Like so many catholic icons, the statue was taken down during the reformation and believed to have been burnt. However, there is another twist in the tale of the shrine. 

On the west coast of Italy, between Rome and Naples, lies the little fishing town of Nettuno. 

In 1550 English sailors were blown off course and arrived there with, what they proclaimed, was ‘The English Lady from Ipswich’. The image is firmly believed to be the same statue that was once honoured at the Ipswich shrine. Today, the Medieval statue is revered in the Italian town’s largest church, the Basilica Nostra Signora delle Grazie – the church of Our Lady of Grace. 

May is the Catholic month of the Virgin Mary and every year in Nettuno, they hold a festival where a procession of re-enactors representing the year 1550 depict the landing of the ship from Ipswich with the statue.  

Phil Roberts was proud to be invited to participate in the re-enactment portraying Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.  Phil said:  “As a child, Wolsey would have been in awe of the Ipswich shrine. As one of three delegates representing Ipswich, I was proud to take part and can gladly say that the Italians were incredibly hospitable.” 

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