Bishop Peter Brignall, Bishop of Wrexham, led the Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Shrine and Well of St Winifrede in Holywell on Sunday. The day began with a Procession from the Catholic Church to the Shrine followed by a special open-air Mass which concluded with a Blessing of all present with the Relic of St Winifrede. Throughout the afternoon pilgrims visited the Well - described as 'the Lourdes of Wales' , and many enjoyed picnics in the sunshine, and a visit to ruins of Basingwerk Abbey nearby - which once hosted pilgrims to Holywell - including royalty.
St Winifrede's Well Shrine is said to be the oldest Catholic Shrine in the British Isles, and has continuously welcomed pilgrims, without interruption for more than 1,300 years.
The healing waters have been said to cause miraculous cures. The legend of Saint Winifred tells how, in AD 660, Caradoc, the son of a local prince, severed the head of the young Winifred after she spurned his advances. A spring rose from the ground at the spot where her head fell and she was later restored to life by her uncle, Saint Beuno.
The well is mentioned in an old rhyme as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales.
King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) visited the site in 1189 to pray for the success of his crusade, and Henry V was said by Adam of Usk to have travelled there on foot from Shrewsbury in 1416 after his victory at Agincourt.
In the late 15th century, Lady Margaret Beaufort built a chapel overlooking the well, which now opens onto a pool where visitors may bathe to this day.
Some of the structures at the well date from the reign of King Henry VII or earlier. King Henry VIII ordered the shrine to be destroyed but much of it survived, and pilgrims continued to come and pray there through the Reformation.
In the 17th century the shrine became known as a symbol of the survival of Catholic recusancy in Wales. From early in their mission to England, the Jesuits supported Holywell. I King James II visited with his wife Mary of Modena during 1686, after several failed attempts to produce an heir to the throne. Shortly after this visit, Mary became pregnant with a son, James.
Princess Victoria, staying in Holywell with her uncle King Leopold of Belgium, visited the Well in 1828.
Today the Shrine attracts people from all over the world. In St Winifred's Guesthouse nearby (where we stayed) there was a visitor from Australia and one from Ireland. Parish groups came from Wales and England.
For more information about St Winefrede's Guest House, which is run by the Bridgettine Sisters, see: www.bridgettine.org/group.asp?page=51
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