A story, a myth and stones that have outlasted time.
Sometimes, we jump down a rabbit hole and connect dots that lie in our shared interests. During our research on places to visit in the north of Wales, we found the town of Holywell and St. Winifred’s Well. It was on our route to a castle, it had an interesting past, ties to Tudors, and was featured in a Brother Cadfael television mystery show. We were hooked and decided to head there on our September buying trip.
Holywell has been a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site for over 1300 years. There is an active spring that flows into a holy bathing pool, a shrine for believers, and a historical chapel. While we were there to check out the story and history, others were there as pilgrims to ask for prayers, light candles and lay flowers at the statues. We were there early morning, so no one was bathing in the holy water pool, which is outside in the elements.
St. Winifred was Welsh and, according to legend, was martyred in the 600s. Her story grew and had a mass following when in the 12th century, her story was first written down and shared with English Catholics. According to legend, Winifred was beheaded when she rejected a local Welsh prince. A spring burst from the ground where her head fell. Her uncle restored her to life, by returning her head to her body. He also became a saint.
The healing waters are believed to cure ailments and stacks of canes are left at the site. The well is known as “the Lourdes of Wales” and people from around the world travel there. Queen Victoria and her Uncle Leopold visited there in 1828 before she was queen. Richard I visited in 1189 to pray for a successful crusade. A small museum tells the history of the site. Nowadays, people bath in the water, drink the water and take it home with them. Pretty sure it has a lot of lead in it, since the area is known for lead mining.
Above the well, is a delightful medieval chapel, said to have been paid for by Lady Margaret Beaufort (grandmother of Henry VIII) in the late 1400s. It is built as an upper chapel on the side of the natural incline, so you leave the site, walk up a hill and enter the chapel from above. Interesting that later, King Henry VIII would have the site closed and the saintly relics destroyed when he officially broke from the Roman Catholic Church and confiscated their money and lands.
As just to come full circle. We pay for subscriptions to both Acorn TV and BritBox, so we can watch British television shows. Cadfael is a 1990s mystery show based a series of historical murder mysteries books. It stars Derek Jacobi as the detective. Series 2 episode 3 was titled “A Morbid Taste for Bones” and concerned the remains of martyred St. Winifred. So, of course, we watched it!
We loved the architecture, and, even though we didn’t “take the waters,” it was a good start to our buying trip/vacation. We definitely had a blessed trip.
This is the second blog on our September 2019 trip. Thanks for reading. Up next, Tintern Abbey.