St Winifride (Winefride, Winifred, or Gwenffrewi in Welsh) was born around the year 600 AD. She was the daughter of a chieftain, and her mother was sister of St Beuno and a member of a family closely associated with the kings of South Wales.
A Welsh prince, Caradog, wanted to marry her,
but Winifride told him she had decided to become a nun.
He was infuriated and he cut off her head.
In one version of the story her head rolled downhill
and where it stopped, a healing spring appeared.
She was restored to life and her head was rejoined to her body
by the efforts of her uncle, the abbot St Beuno!
It is said that before he left the spot, he seated himself on the stone
by the pool and promised in the name of God that
"whoever on that spot should ask a benefit from God
in the name of St Winifrede would obtain the grace he asked
if it was for the good of his soul."
Winifride, now reunited with her head (see in picture above how seamlessly this was done!) and she became a nun and later abbess at Gwytherin in Denbighshire,
having received inspiration to leave Holywell and travel inland.
After her death Winifride was interred at her abbey.
In 1138, relics of her were carried to Shrewsbury
to form the basis of an elaborate shrine.
It was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540.
Her well at Holywell (Treffynon, pictured above)
has been a place of pilgrimage and healing,
the only place in Britain with a continuous history of pilgrimage
for over thirteen centuries.
King Henry V gave thanks there for his victory at Agincourt.
Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII,
erected a chapel to enclose it.
Another well named after St. Winifred is found in the hamlet of Woolston near Oswestry. According to legend, it is thought that on her way to Shrewsbury Abbey, Winifride's body was laid there overnight and a spring sprang up out of the ground. The water is supposed to have healing powers and be good at healing bruises, wounds and broken bones.The well is covered by a 15th-century half-timbered cottage. The water flows through a series of stone troughs and into a large pond, which then flows into a stream. The cottage is maintained by the Landmark Trust.
Another spring supposedly arising from the laying down of Winifride's body is at Holywell Farm, midway betweenTattenhall and Clutton, Cheshire. There is a spring in the garden of this non-working farm which supplies two houses with their drinking water.
St.Winifride's well, twenty miles north of Wrexham,
was originally formed from a mountain spring,
and is housed below the town of Holywell on the side of a steep hill
In 1917, due to mining, the well ran dry but water was soon restored.
St Winifride’s Well is mentioned in the medieval poem
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The accounts of her life were written long after her death.
One was by the Benedictine Abbot of Shrewsbury in around 1138,
when Winifride's relics were transferred there.
William Caxton's 1483 edition of the Golden Legend included the story of
St. Winifride. The following year, he printed a separate "Life" of the saint.
Recently a fragment of an eighth century reliquary
was found at Gwytherin giving added authenticity
to her status as a saint.
Pilgrims going to Holywell bathe three times in the inner bath,
reciting a decade of the rosary,
and then go to the outer pool to complete their prayers,
kneeling on St Beuno's stone.
St Winifride is remembered in the Roman Missal on November 3rd.
Holywell has been described as the Lourdes of Wales. ‘You are not here to verify,
instruct yourself, or inform curiosity, or carry report. You are here to kneel,
where prayer has been valid.’ (Little Gidding, I. 43-46. T.S.Eliot)