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|2215: St Winefride's
Well, Holywell, Flintshire, North Wales
Winefride's Well, Holywell, Flintshire, North Wales.
Roman Catholic, Diocese
A late 15th century stone vaulted Perpendicular Gothic building
of unique appearance that houses the well of St Winefride. There
are two floors: the well chamber, a central basin in the shape
of a truncated eight-pointed star into which flows a spring
of clear water; and the chapel, consisting of a north aisle
and an apsidal chancel. Each floor has a separate entrance;
the stairway that once linked the two floors is now blocked.
The well chamber is enclosed by a low wall with columns that
form an elaborately ornamented vault of complex design. The
water flows away beneath the surrounding walkway into a rather
chilly pool (the water temperature remains a constant 50 degrees
Fahrenheit year round) that pilgrims can step into. The only
modern touch is a row of brightly coloured tents where pilgrims
may change their clothes. The nearby former custodian's cottage
now houses a museum.
The legend of St Winefride dates from the 7th century and relates
how the young Prince Caradoc stopped at Winefride's house one
day to ask for a drink of water. When he tried to force his
attentions on the girl, she ran away but was caught by the prince
and beheaded. The earth opened and swallowed Caradoc at the
spot where the girl's head fell, and a fountain of pure water
gushed forth. (Some, however, say that the Romans had known
about a well on the site.) Winefride's uncle, a monk named Beuno,
happened upon the scene and reattached the girl's head, whereupon
she came back to life. Winefride went on to found a convent
and lived for another 22 years. Stories of miracle cures experienced
by pilgrims who bathed in the fountain began to circulate in
the 12th century. St Winefride's Well is often called the Lourdes
of Wales and is the oldest continually visited pilgrimage site
in Great Britain, despite efforts by Henry VIII and others to
put a stop to the "Papist superstition". For years,
the shrine has been the focus for visitors of all traditions,
not just Roman Catholic. The gift shop is the main draw for
non-Catholics because of the vast range of religious items and
souvenirs on sale.
Holywell, in North Wales, was an important lead and copper mining
town in the 18th century. Today's Holywell is a small market
town, with many fine old Georgian buildings along the high street.
The surrounding area is known for an abundance of birds and
butterflies. There are some fine views across the Dee estuary
The Rt Revd Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham, was the celebrant
The date & time:
Solemnity of Corpus Christi, 26 June 2011, 3.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Procession and Concelebrated Mass for National Pilgrimage to
St Winefride's Well.
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams! Standing room only.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not exactly. However, it is an open air event so there was plenty of smiling and waving in the general melee.
Was your pew comfortable?
The grass was quite comfortable, albeit rather damp in places. I also sat on the perimeter wall that surrounds the shrine gardens.
How would you describe the pre-service
Party atmosphere, a gathering of the clans and a general hubbub, the travelling fraternity being present in vast numbers at this occasion.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
What books did the congregation use during the
Printed service sheet and hymn sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, valiantly played. How the lady kept going, as her music was blown about in the breeze, I'll never know!
Did anything distract you?
As we processed behind the Blessed Sacrament, Protestant reformers
were out in force channeling, I suppose, Henry VIII, shouting
the odds and waving their placards about: "No Popery!"
"Down with idolatry." But all we did was to sing louder!
I waved a brolly at them in defiance. My attention was also
drawn to the nubile, scantily-clad, ample-chested totty of the
travelling fraternity, one in particular who had waist-length
red hair. Babies squalled. Youngsters ran around throwing water
at each other in an attempt to cool off in the baking surroundings.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Where do I start? The Blessed Sacrament procession formed up
outside the church of St Winefride in the town centre. We wended
our way down toward the well gardens, pausing every now and
again for the Stations, singing as we went all the old Latin
favourites: Tantum ergo Sacramentum, O Salutaris
Hostia, Pange linqua gloriosi, etc. The bejewelled
monstrance led the way, flanked by acolytes, censer, and the
clergy in procession. As we walked, we were gently bathed by
the scent of wild garlic and lime trees in the valley, commingling
with the incense. Once we arrived at the shrine, the mass itself
was nice and folksy!
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Using his notes, the bishop was amusing and interesting.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
How do you view the mass today? Is the Sacrament relevant in
Which part of the service was like being in
The old Latin hymns took me back to my school days when we had
benediction in the school chapel. Also, one of the hymns was
to the tune "The Ash Grove". It made me smile to remember it
also accompanied "The Mayor of Bayswater", a rather
risqué rugby song!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
From my vantage point sitting by the wall adjacent to the main gate, a steady stream of people in and out caused me some discomfort because the metal gate would bang against me. And the people were only going out to have a quick ciggy!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service, before the bishop's final blessing,
we were informed by the bishop's chaplain that if we were thirsty
after all the singing, we would find refreshments at the shrine
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
As I made my way back to town, I accosted a smiling cleric who
reminded me of Friar Tuck. "Have you been up to the school?"
he asked. "If you're quick you might find some refreshments
left." I hastened up to the school and found cakes, sandwiches,
scones a veritable feast! However, it had all been removed
to the kitchen area where ladies were washing up. I asked politely
if I could have a sandwich as I was very hungry. A lady with
her hands in the washing-up water gave me a frosty look, making
me feel as though I should not even be there. I was minding
my manners, though. This pilgrim was hungry and there were plenty
of leftovers. I did manage to get a sandwich after all.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 This was a one-off occasion for me and for many, but
I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The scent of wild garlic and the smell of the lime trees along the Greenfield Valley.
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