St. Winifred's Well
St. Winifred's Well
St. Winifred's Well, a holy healing well in northern Wales (United Kingdom), is a site related to ancient Celtic Christianity that has come back into prominence as a result of the contemporary Celtic revival. The legend of the well goes back to the fifth century C.E. and the movement of Christian hermits into the region. Among those who studied Christianity with the hermits was Winifred, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain. One day she was attacked by another chieftain and refused his advances. In his anger, he cut off her head. Where the severed head fell, a healing spring well gushed forth. Where her blood splattered the moss turned red and began to emit an odor like violets. The head rolled into a nearby chapel where Bueno, one of the hermits, retrieved it, carried it to the body, and prayed over Winifred. She returned to life. At a later date, Bueno blessed the well and promised that all who came to the well would receive an answer to their prayer.
While the story of Winifred and Bueno is set in the fifth century, it can be dated as a legend only to the twelfth century. Since that time the well has been in use as a healing spring and relics believed to belong to Winifred were placed in the church at Shrewsbury. During the Middle Ages, pilgrims would go to Shrewsbury and then to the well. Along the route they passed stones said to have been covered with her blood. The wife of Henry VII built a large building over the well in 1500. However, not long afterwards, the cult of Winifred was disrupted when King Henry VIII, who at one time had visited the well, moved against the monasteries and pilgrimage sites across his land. The stones along the pilgrimage site were scattered and the relics lost. Only a single finger believed to be Winifred's survived and was hidden away in Rome until 1852, when it was sent back to England and divided between Shrewsbury and the well.
When the Church of England replaced the Roman Catholic Church as the official state religion, Winifred's Well remained a focus of Catholicism in England. Pilgrims continued to come to the site and reported healing through the years that Catholicism was officially outlawed in England. When the church was again given legal status in the middle of the nineteenth century, the well immediately became the scene of official pilgrimages. Today, both Anglicans and Catholics utilize the well shrine. The Church of England sponsors an annual pilgrimage for the handicapped. The Catholic priest in the church adjacent to the shrine blesses pilgrims with Winifred's finger relic. Though it is not as famous as Lourdes, many healings have been reported from the shrine.
Charles-Edwards, T. Saint Winifrede and Her Well. London: Catholic Truth Society, 1971.
David, Christopher. Saint Winifrede's Well. Slough, UK: Kennion Press, 1969.
Jones, Francis. The Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1992.