“When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.”
This was the prophecy made by Pope Leo XIII in 1893 when speaking to the English bishops about the consecration of England to Mary, the Mother of God. The Pope was recalling England’s ancient title, “Our Lady’s Dowry,” and the medieval Marian shrine linked to it at Walsingham.
In December 2015, EWTN-Great Britain (GB) CEO Andy Pollock decided to build a television studio at the current Marian shrine at Walsingham. Inspired by the spirit of the same medieval vision that brought about the building of the shrine in the first place, this decision, in the years hence, may be seen as contributing to the realization of Pope Leo’s prophecy — if in ways that he could never have imagined.
Recognizing the opportunity to be a presence at one of the most important centers of Catholicism in Britain, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims go to worship every year, Michael Warsaw, the chairman of the board and CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, joined in Pollock’s effort. And in August 2017, EWTN opened its first British studio at Walsingham. The ceremony was attended by the local Catholic bishop, men, women and children living and working at Walsingham and EWTN’s Warsaw. It was a moment of celebration as well as of anticipation in the unfolding story of EWTN’s British presence now linked with England’s principal Marian shrine.
Central to what happened next with the studio was the Servais family. Norman and Amy Servais and their three young children had journeyed from South Africa to England with the hope of contributing to the vision of Catholic media at the heart of the New Evangelization in Britain. It was a brave move, involving not only relocating to a new country and culture but exchanging the exotic delights of Cape Town for the quieter charms of rural Norfolk.
More than two years on, how has the studio fared? How has the Servais family adjusted to a new life in a different country?
Amy and Norman first set eyes on each other in a Cape Town church. Amy laughs as she remembers that moment, recalling the distinct feeling that that this man would be her future husband. Norman was preoccupied with matters other than marriage, however — initially, at least. Subsequently, Amy was asked to help launch Eucharistic adoration in the parish. And, as it turned out, Norman was also involved in that project. They were married in 2000.
By the time Amy met Norman, she was working in insurance, investigating claims. After they were married, she continued doing so. Norman, meanwhile, was following a passion that he suspected was also a vocation, namely, filmmaking in particular and media in general. Although he had worked with secular broadcasters, Norman felt ever more drawn to devoting his talents to Catholic media. Increasingly, he worked with EWTN, producing various documentaries for the network in Africa, while Amy developed an interest in film editing.
EWTN GB’s decision to build a studio at the English Marian shrine situated at Walsingham was a bold move. The little village in North Norfolk is not on any railway line; it is not linked by any major road network, and it is a good three hours by car from London. Known as “England’s Nazareth,” Walsingham is as equally remote from the centers of secular power as Nazareth was in the time of Mary. Pollock was undeterred, however. He saw the Marian shrine as a center of evangelization for England and beyond. “We — EWTN GB — consider ourselves under the patronage of Our Lady and carrying out her wishes,” he said.
With the enthusiastic support of the Catholic shrine authorities, work commenced on building a 21st-century, state-of-the-art studio at the medieval shrine. Bricks and mortar is one thing, but finding the right people to make such an enterprise a success is a wholly different challenge. Yet, out of the blue, and as it turned out, providentially, EWTN GB received an email from Norman enquiring about film-production possibilities in the British Isles. This inquiry proved an answer to the prayer of all concerned.
In February 2017, Norman traveled to England to film for EWTN the “Consecration of England to the Immaculate Heart” at Westminster Cathedral. While in England, he visited Walsingham. The minute he set foot in the village and prayed at the shrine, he had a sense that this was where he and his family were to live and where he would discover the next stage of his vocation in Catholic media. Upon returning to Cape Town, he told Amy as much. Reflecting today on that choice, Norman said, “I knew it was going to be a challenge.” Yet, for the couple, the pull of the Marian shrine was strong: Amy saw clearly God’s hand in this new possibility. By May 2017, the family had relocated from Cape Town to Walsingham, living in the accommodations provided with the studio.
Walsingham village is an ancient one and the history of some of its buildings, though several are in ruins, is well attested in various documents. At the center of the medieval shrine was the Augustinian priory. However, there was an equally busy friary run by the Franciscan Grey Friars. There were also a number of hostels for pilgrims, one of them being the premises now occupied by EWTN, a building known in medieval times as The White Horse. After the Protestant Reformation, the friaries and much else in Walsingham were destroyed or repurposed. By the 20th century The White Horse was a busy restaurant.
Today, the building housing the EWTN studio is known as Annunciation House. The Annunciation is the shrine’s chief Marian focus and is held by Tradition to have taken place at the Holy House of Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, a replica of which was requested by Our Lady of Richeldis in the 11th century. The Annunciation is also integral to the work of EWTN foundress, the late Mother Angelica, whose full religious name denotes not just devotion to the angels, but also included the epithet: “of the Annunciation.” For years, at the express wish of Mother Angelica, there hung in the American studios of EWTN a picture of Our Lady of Walsingham, looking forward, perhaps, to a moment in the unseen future when EWTN would open its first studio there. The medieval name for the studio building — The White Horse — also has a strange providence: In the Book of Revelation it is a “white horse” that brings the Eternal Word of God.
The Servais family have settled well into living “over the shop.” In fact, Amy said, “I have come to love being in this house.” The older teenage sons attend local schools, while the youngest, a daughter, is home-schooled. Still, the Servais’ time there has been marked by suffering, particularly as a result of concerns around Amy’s health and her ongoing battle with cancer. But she is focused on trust, simply saying that, since coming to Walsingham, “the theme has been having to trust that God is going to provide and protect.”
The last two-plus years, nevertheless, have seen remarkable development. A working studio has been established and is now very much part of the fabric of the life at the shrine and its mission to English pilgrims who come there. The media production emerging from the studio — television and radio — is increasing, with new initiatives about to be launched. Effectively, the location of the studio at Walsingham has provided a home for the British mission of EWTN — a “family home,” since both Amy and Norman see EWTN very much as “a family.”
Norman as head of production for radio and television and Amy as senior editor feel blessed to be part of that family. “I love editing,” Amy told the Register. “It is like making a tapestry, like sowing a story together.” But her editing is not just a visual process. It entails much reading of theology, in particular, ensuring that all the British output fits within the editorial parameters of EWTN in Alabama. “I’m a stickler for the truth,” she added.
Around them they have begun to build the nucleus of a wider team, drawn mainly from those who live in the Walsingham locality. The presence of EWTN offers other Catholics there an opportunity to participate in the network’s wider media mission. New talent for this is being unearthed and showcased regularly via EWTN’s British television feed. The output on that remains largely American, but that is changing. “We want to build a sustainable production model, something for the EWTN GB region,” explained Norman.
Norman and Amy are keen for the message of EWTN to reach not just Catholics but all those across the British Isles. They are also realists. Establishing EWTN in the largely secular United Kingdom will take time, patience and much grace. Any expansion of production will also bring new challenges. As Norman commented, “In production we have to be as efficient as possible because we are such a small team.”
Alongside the British EWTN output, the network has developed strong links with the National Shrine at Walsingham. Msgr. John Armitage, the shrine’s rector, was present at the studio opening in 2017 and warmly welcomed the Catholic media giant to the village. Two years on, he told the Register, “EWTN is a remarkable presence in the village. In such an ancient place we have been given such an experience of the modern world to promote the message of Our Lady.”
But Msgr. Armitage sees an even deeper message in the functioning of the EWTN studio. “The contribution of a family to the story of the holy house is fitting. I’m grateful to EWTN for coming to the shrine, but I’m even more grateful to the Servais family for contributing to the life of the village and the shrine.”
Speaking to the Register, Tom Fitzpatrick, Norfolk County councillor and district councillor for Walsingham and a Catholic, said, “EWTN’s broadcasts from the basilica are good for promoting Walsingham to a wider audience.” He added, “EWTN is on the way to becoming a part of Walsingham life. ”
K.V. Turley is the Register’s U.K. correspondent.