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Williamsburg showcases Catholic history amid the colonial

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In Williamsburg, it’s commonplace to come across a woman grocery shopping wearing a bonnet. Virginia's former capital has many historical re-enactors eager to share its colonial past. The southern town also showcases a bit of English Catholic history via the small National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The original Our Lady of Walsingham shrine was built in England in 1061 when a pious woman said she received a vision from Mary asking her to build a replica of the house where the Annunciation occurred. That memorial was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538, but centuries later, devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham reignited. In 1941, the pastor of St. Bede Church in Williamsburg decided to name the chapel for the students of the College of William and Mary after her. After fulfilling the usual conditions, today pilgrims to the picturesque chapel can receive a plenary indulgence.

There’s plenty to see and do in Williamsburg. Stroll down the bustling Duke of Gloucester Street, affectionately known as Dog Street, and step into Colonial Williamsburg. Be sure to see the courthouse, the Capitol and the beautiful gardens behind the governor's mansion. Complete the historic trifecta by visiting nearby Jamestown, home of the 17th-century British colony, and Yorktown, the site of the final battle of the American Revolution.

It’s a quick walk across Confusion Corner, a notoriously tricky intersection, from Colonial Williamsburg to William and Mary’s campus. Visitors will first see the Wren Building, the oldest academic building continuously in use in the country. Ahead are the Sunken Gardens, a grassy space surrounded by brick buildings. Behind the trees lies the Crim Dell. Seniors triumphantly walk across a bridge over the dell on their graduation day, and local lore says that if you kiss your sweetheart on the bridge, you’ll be together forever.

Chain restaurants line Richmond Road, but if you’re looking for local fare, try Sal’s by Victor, an Italian restaurant, the Blue Talon Bistro, Food for Thought or Aroma’s for coffee and a sandwich. Bookworms can stop by Mermaid Books next door. Breakfast places such as Astronomical Pancake and Waffle House abound, so there’s plenty of choices for after-Mass brunch. Late at night, you’ll find the college kids at Wawa or Cookout.

When you’re done exploring the history, the European-themed Busch Gardens touts itself as the world’s most beautiful amusement park. It’s worth the trip even for non-coaster riders. Water Country USA can cool down toasty Williamsburg summers. For those who seek the thrill of the buy, the outlets are waiting.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019