St Winefrides Well

Holywell Flint

 

 

 

 

 

The Celtic Head Cult is often still remembered at sacred well sites, and St Winefrides is no exception. Around 700 CE Winefride, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain and niece of St Beuno, had her head cut off by Prince Caradoc rather than submit to his advances. The well springing up from where the head fell. Her head was of course replaced by St Beuno, and they lived happily ever after. Actually Winefride went to be a nun for the 22 remaining years of her life, however happy that is.

 

For three days after the saints death the well was said to flow milk, presumably calcium deposits, whereas it was normally a red blood well, rich in iron.

 

It is the site with the most continuous history of pilgrimage in Britain, after 1300 years it is still a place of pilgrimage for those seeking healing. Cures have been recorded from the 12th century up to the present, and on the site are an array of wooden crutches discarded by the cured in former times.

 

The Countess of Chester gave the well to the Normans in 1093, when it was under the auspices of St Werburg Monastery, but the Welsh regained it in 1240 when Dafydd ap Llywelyn bestowed it on Basingwerk Abbey, who's monks, who held it until 1537, apparently invented a legend about three red stones which moved about in the waters.

 

The well came under threat several times during the 16th century reformation, during which wells were demolished, artefacts removed and pilgrimages prohibited. Pilgrimages however did continue to Holywell, including royal patronage by Richard I, Henry V, and Edward IV. Richard III gave financial support, and the Countess of Richmond had the ornate gothic chapel built.  James II and his queen went there to ask for a son, who was duly born in 1688. Thus the well cult started by the Pagans was still too strong during the Xtian era, not to survive through those turbulent times.

 

St Winefride's Chapel, a two storey late perpendicular gothic building was erected at the beginning of the 16th century, over the well head, and is a building unique in the world. In the precinct in front of the chapel is the large bathing pool through which clients still pass, with changing tents available.

 

The museum is housed in the large Victorian custodian's house, with a display of saints bones amongst other relics. Known as the "Welsh Lourdes" it is a big money spinner for the catholic church, ten pounds being collected in one day in 1535, a large amount for that time. The well, said to yield 4,000 gallons a minute, was used to power several mills during the 19th century despite objections.

   

General View of the Complex

 

Bathing Pool, with Changing Tents

 

The Well

 

Chapel Built over the Well

 

The Museum

 

 

 

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