Saint Gwenvrewi of Holywell

St. Gwenvrewi of Holywell, Abbess of Denbighshire, Wales – November 3
(Winefride, Winifred, Winefride, Wenefrida, Gwenfrewi, Guinevra)

Died c. 680. Winifred is evidently an historical personage, but it is equally true that her true story can no longer be reconstructed because the written information is too late to be reliable.

Winefred was the daughter of Trevith, one of the chief advisers of the king of North Wales. Through her mother she is related to the Welsh saint Beuno, a holy priest. Her parents put her under instruction with this holy man, from whom she learned the heavenly doctrine with great eagerness.

She grew daily in virtue and desired to shun all earthly things so that she might devote herself entirely to God. With the consent of her parents, she consecrated herself entirely to God by a vow of virginity, choosing Jesus Christ as her Spouse.

Tradition says that a prince of that country named Caradoc (Caradog of Hawarden or Penarlag or Tegeingl in Flintshire) fell violently in love with her. One day finding her alone in the house where she was preparing things for use at the altar, her parents having already gone to the church service, he tried to seduce her. Winefred told him she was already espoused to another, but he would not leave her alone.

Sensing his evil designs she excused herself on the plea that she must first adorn herself more becomingly. When she was free of him she escaped through her own chamber at the rear of the house and fled toward the church with all speed. The prince, tired of waiting and suspecting some kind of deceit, looking out of the house saw a figure hurrying along the valley.

Violently angry at being deceived, he mounted his horse but was not able to overtake Winefred until she reached the door of the church. He was so angry that he raised his sword and struck her before she could enter. Hearing the tumult outside, Saint Beuno and her parents came out immediately, to find their dying child lying slain before them at their feet.

The saint cursed the slayer, some writers saying that the ground opened and swallowed him up. The saint then praying to God, restored Winefred to life again. It was on this spot where her blood had flowed that a fountain gushed forth from the ground. On account of this blood-shedding she was always regarded as a martyr, though she lived for many years thereafter.

The spot became known as Holywell, a place of pilgrimage for many succeeding ages, even to the present. After the death of Saint Beuno, having taken the veil, Saint Winefred went to live at the convent she established at Guthurin (Gwytherin in Denbigshire); there, with other holy virgins, she gave her life to God. (Another version says she succeeded Abbess Tenoi at the convent of a double monastery already on the site.)

She died on June 24. In the 12th century (1138), her relics were taken from Guthurin to Shrewsbury and deposited with great honour in the Benedictine Abbey, founded there some 50 years earlier. Her cultus spread to England as well. Miracles were attested at Guthurin, Shrewsbury, as well as at Holywell (a.k.a. Treffynnon, Welltown).

Her story was recorded by a monk named Elerius as early as 660. It can be safely said, however, from the names of her contemporaries, that she lived and died in the first half of the 7th century, about the same time as Saint Eanswith of Kent (Murray).

At Holywell such vast quantities of water spring without interruption that it is estimated 24 tons are raised every minute, or 240 tons in less than 10 minutes. The water is always clear as crystal.

No place was more famous for pilgrimages in the age of faith, where the divine mercy was implored through the intercession of Saint Winefred, who at that spot had glorified God and sanctified her own soul.

Many extraordinary physical cures of leprosy, skin diseases, and other ailments are recorded up to the time of the wicked Reformation. Many authentic records of cures during the 17th century are also extant, so that the people still made pilgrimages there.

Part of the beautiful Gothic building erected by Henry VII and his mother, the Countess of Derby, still remains. The people never forgot this holy place or the saint whom they invoked. During the last century the pilgrimages were revived.

Pilgrimages to Saint Winefred’s Well persisted after the Reformation, and they do to this day. Two poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are devoted to this saint.

There is evidence that the abbot Saint Beuno (f.d. April 21) was a man of importance, but is story, too, as written in 1346, is legendary. His name is particularly associated with Clynnog in Caernarvonshire, where sick people were still brought to his supposed burying-place towards the end of the 18th century. He may well have had a small monastery there (Attwater).

In art Winefred is depicted as a Celtic maiden with a sword, fountain at her feet, and red ring around her neck where her head has been severed and restored. Sometimes she is shown with her head being restored by Saint Beuno, at others as an abbess with a ring around her neck, standing near the fountain (Roeder).

She is venerated at Holywell, Wales. Reputed as abbess of Gwytherin, Denbighshire. Saint Beuno, Abbot, is chiefly venerated at Clynnog, Carnarvonshire (d. 630). (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Metcalf, Murray).

Troparion of St Winefred tone 8
Caradog’s anger struck off thy head, O pious Winefred,/ but by the prayers of the Wonderworker Beuno thy mutilated form was miraculously made whole and restored to life./ As thou didst dedicate thy life to God’s service in thanksgiving for His abundant mercy,/ pray that we, never forgetting His mercy towards us, may live only for Him that our souls may be saved.

Icon of Saint Winefred:
http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/icons/Icons-Winifred.htm##1

Holywell – Clwyd
by Roy Fry & Tristan Gray Hulse
http://www.bath.ac.uk/lispring/sourcearchive/ns1/ns1tgh2.htm

Winifred’s Well:
http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~dylanwad/StWinefride/Pamphlet.htm
http://britannia.com/celtic/wales/sacred/winifred.html
http://www.britannia.com/travel/barbaraballard/winifred.html

http://castlewales.com/abbeys.html is a nice site of religious sites in Wales with some good pictures. Have a look especially at the link to St Winefride’s well, the little chantry chapel above the well is where the annual Orthodox pilgrimage is held in October.

“The Lives and Miracles of St. Winifred of Holywell and Shrewsbury.”
Translated by Hugh Feiss, OSB. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co, 1999.

Information kindly supplied by:
http://www.saintpatrickdc.org/