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The market town of Holywell takes its name from the St Winefride's Well, a holy well surrounded by a chapel. The well has been known since at least the Roman period, and has been a site of pilgrimage since about 660 when Saint Winefride was beheaded there by Caradog who attempted to rape her. The well is one of the Seven Wonders of Wales and the town bills itself as the 'Lourdes of Wales'.
The well which bears her name has been a destination for pilgrims since the medieval period and continues to attract visitors to this day.
St Winefride's Chapel was built around 1500 and encloses three sides of the well. Its construction was paid for by Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and is the only well to have survived the Reformation as a place of public pilgrimage. In 1138 relics of St Winefride were translated to Shrewsbury, and she became the patron saint of that town.
Her relics were venerated there by pilgrims until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, whereupon her shrine and its relics were destroyed. One finger-bone was saved, half of which is today preserved at Holywell, while the other half is in the possession of the Catholic Church at Shrewsbury.
Henry V is reported to have walked bare foot to Holywell from Shrewsbury in 1416. This was the year he was preparing for his second and greater invasion of France that followed the Agincourt campaign. Edward IV made a pilgrimage to Holywell, and Richard III gave alms to maintain a priest here. Saint Winefride is among the saints placed to watch for ever over the tomb of the first Welsh King of England, Henry VII, in his chapel at Westminster. James II visited on 29 August 1686 with his Queen, Mary of Modena, to pray for a Stuart Prince of Wales.
The nearest railway station is at Flint which has direct connections with major British cities and towns, including London Euston, Cardiff and Manchester.
Today, the former Pilgrims' Hospice, New Road, Holywell, has been converted into St Winefride's Guest House, run by an order of nuns. The Bridgettine Sisters, who live next door, took it on after it was closed in 2002 by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle who had run the building as a hospice for 130 years before eventually turning it into a Catholic guesthouse. It is open all year.
For other accommodation: http://www.holywell-town.co.uk/tourism8.htm
Recite the Station or Special Pilgrimage Prayer
Bathing is now allowed at set times on weekday mornings and men and women are strictly segregated. There are tents around the outer pool for pilgrims to change.
Most pilgrims use the outer pool, though it is also possible to bathe in the inner pool. They traditionally immerse themselves in the water three times. This is a reminder of St Beuno’s prophecy that Winifred would be able to grant her petitioners’ requests, if not at the first time of asking, then at the second or third. (The triple request is also reminiscent of Celtic legends - three wishes, three curses, the three times that the lady of Llyn y Fan Fach was beaten by her husband.) Near the pool is Beuno’s Stone, on which the saint is said to have sat to teach his niece (or to have stood to say farewell to her). Pilgrims kneel on the stone to complete their devotions.
There is a small charge for entry to the well. You can buy holy water bottles for filling, and candles to light in the well chamber. An exhibition in the entrance building has a meticulously-researched account of the saint and the history of the shrine. The well chapel is in the care of CADW and the key to this is also available at the well.
St. Winefride's WellHolywellTel. 0352 713054 for hours
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