Thereís an atmosphere of peace in this placeóa place of pilgrimage for 1300 years. A place where people come in faith to ask for Godís favors. This is St. Winefrideís Well.
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This holy place began with a legend. In AD 660 the town of Holywell, located in northern Wales, was a cluster of huts centered around a church. Caradoc, the son of a prince living in the area, pursued Winefride, the daughter of a local prince. Refusing to marry him, she sought sanctuary in the church, but, before she reached it, Caradoc caught her. Angry at her refusal to marry him, he beheaded her.
It is said a spring of water rose where Winefrideís severed head came to rest, a spring with healing powers. St. Winefrideís uncle placed her head next to her body. He then prayed over her, and she rose to her feet, head attached, became a nun and was eventually made Abbessof a convent. She died 15 years later.
As the fame of the wellís healing power spread, pilgrims journeyed to the spring to pray for healing, passing through the cold, clear, bluish water three times. Walking down limestone steps, they kneeled and kissed a stone cross. An ancient carving of one pilgrim carrying another is etched into the worn stone.
Royalty visited the site. Henry V, who relied on the Saintís aid at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, made a pilgrimmage of thanksgiving to the well the year following his victory. In the 15th century, Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond, and the mother of Henry VII, commissioned an elaborate arched crypt to be built above the spring. Emblems of the family are found in the stained glass. Carvings of St. Winefride and her legend adorn the weathered stone. High in the crypt ceiling St. Winefride is seated with a staff in her hand and a crown over her head.
Five hundred years of graffiti on the walls of the crypt attest to the years of unbroken faith in the wellís healing powers. Thousands of visitors continue to come today. Candles of hope still shine. St. Winefrideís Well is a place of pilgrimage, the Lourdes of Wales.
St. Winefrideís Well is located in the town of Holywell off the A55, B5121, in northern Wales. It is one hour by car from Manchester Airport.
The legend of St. Winefride is the basis for Ellis Peterís, ďA Morbid Taste for BonesĒ, the first book in her Brother Cadfael mystery series.
Photos by Barbara Ballard