St Winefride’s Well Holywell
On my first day exploring I decided to go to a place very close to where I was staying in Afonwen called Holywell, my host Nicola told me about it and said it is named the Lourdes of Wales. I have never heard of this before so was very intrigued, once I was told I could have the rest of the day and the next few to myself, I knew I had to go there, I first went to Mold to do what little shopping I needed, then went to Holywell on the way back from Mold. It wasn’t easily signposted but once I found it, the building struck me first as very beautiful, Gothic, very ornate and obviously well kept.
I found a place to park just opposite the church which houses St Winefrides Well and went across to see how much it was to go in; there was a little gift shop at the entrance with a small museum area telling you the story of St Winefrides Well. It was only £1 to go in so I decided to take look at the museum room and go for a walk over to the Well, I could see a lot of people milling about across the grass verge and knew that was where the Well must have been, but first I wanted to read a little more about the history of the place.
According to legend St Winefride’s Well first appeared at the spot where her alleged rapist Caradog cut off her head with a sword. Restored to life at the prayers of her uncle St Bueno, Winefride lived as a nun until her second death 22 years later. She was a 7th century Welsh woman who had been venerated as a saint ever since the moment of her death, since that time her Well has been a place of pilgrimage and healing; the only such place in Britain with a continuous history of public pilgrimage for over 13 centuries.
It is believed that thousands of people have been cured after bathing in the Well over the centuries and the museum houses many wooden crutches which were discarded after being healed at the Well.
The present Shrine building is a glorious 2 storey Late Perpendicular Gothic building erected in the first year of the 16th century and is unique in the world. It is a Grade 1 Listed Building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Well precinct also houses an Interpretive Exhibition setting forth the story of the saint and her shrine in detail, and the Victorian former custodians’ house has been converted to house a museum of the Pilgrimage.
The Well is described by some as one of the Seven Wonders of wales.
I looked around the museum and read the literature to get a feel for the history of St Winefride’s and then crossed the grass verge where I could see everyone milling about, I noticed a small room which said changing room on the door and I hadn’t realised on entry that you could actually still bathe in the waters of the Well for healing purposes. I walked over to the crowd of people who were all changed and taking turns to bathe in the Well and carried on past them into the Shrine, I paid my donation and lit a candle, where (if you are religious) you can then sit and say your hail Marys and Our Fathers or whatever your prayers are depending on your religion. There were a few people at the Shrine in prayer so I respectfully went back outside to speak with one of the members of the group who were bathing, he told me they were from London although of possibly Taiwanese descent and this was their second time visiting the Well and the people who were bathing were definitely feeling the benefit from their earlier dip, (it is said that you must bathe three times in the Well for you to be completely healed). There was a young girl with Lupus who had been before and was now off the drugs given to her for the disease initially and she was starting to feel better. I also spoke to a German lady there who was just observing and she told me that she knew someone who had had cancer and bathed in the Well and was completely cured. It all seemed very interesting.
The man I spoke to told me how it should be done, he pointed out two crosses etched into the stone around the Well and there was an iron railing running along the inside of the Well which was for holding onto as you bathed, he told me to hold on to the rail between the two crosses and kneel on the stone below, fully immersing your body in the water and to do this three times in quick succession. I really wasn’t sure what to do as I hadn’t come prepared to go in the water, I came out of interest but it just seemed an opportunity not to be missed, the man I spoke to was very encouraging and told me he had arthritis and it was healing and that I should give it a go even though I was fully clothed. The more I watched the others the more I felt the need to go in, I wasn’t that far from home and I had a blanket in the car that I could wrap myself in once out of my wet clothes.
While I was making my mind up and talking to other members of the group about their experience another group of Irish people came to the Well and had bought empty bottles from the gift shop which they filled with the holy water, they also all decided they were going in fully clothed so that convinced me to give it a go, I videoed this Irish girl and she took photos of me while I went in, it was absolutely the most freezing water I think I have ever bathed in and I have been in the sea on Boxing day in Wales, but it was very invigorating, I swear when I came out I felt wonderful, could have been because the sun came out as I left the water which made me feel very warm and I definitely felt like something special had just happened. I’m not sure if it had done any healing but I’m definitely going back another twice before I leave North Wales.
The Shrine and Well are open throughout the year except Christmas day and Boxing Day. 1 April – 30 September, Sunday to Saturday 9am to 5pm. 1 October – 31 March 10am till 4pm. If visiting it’s best to check times of museum openings before you go. There is a daily service at the shrine, following an unbroken tradition first established over 100 years ago which the public can take part in throughout the Pilgrimage season (Pentecost to last Sunday in September). Bathing is only allowed at certain times so it is best to check before you go; organised pilgrimages take place annually there with many different organisations