Saint Winefride. Vitrail, St. Winefride's Well, Holywell, Flintshire, UK.
Vierge dans le pays de Galles (7ème s.)
Repoussant la brutalité d'un certain Caradoc qui la trouva seule à la maison, elle réussit à s'enfuir jusqu'à l'église où ses parents étaient alors en prière. Mais elle fut rattrapée sur le seuil même de l'église où elle fut tuée par son poursuivant. La légende veut qu'une fontaine jaillit à cet endroit. Elle existe encore et la ville en prit le nom: Holy-Well, la fontaine de la sainte. Si les détails de la légende ne sont pas historiques, l'existence de sainte Wenefride est certaine.
Recherches d'un fidèle internaute: Sainte Gwenvrewi de Holywell - Abbesse de Denbighshire - texte en pdf
Au pays de Galles, sans doute au VIIe siècle, sainte Winifred, vierge, vénérée comme une moniale éminente, près d’une source appelée Treffynnon ou Holywell.
Saint Winefride. Vitrail (1934), Our Lady and Saint Non's chapel, St Davids, Wales
Winifred VM (RM)
(also known as 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 and fanciful to be reliable. Throughout the time of the persecution of Roman Catholics in England, miracles were wrought for the faithful who held tenaciously to the belief in miracles. Many cures were worked through the prayers of Saint Winefred at her tomb.
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 Mass, 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 honor 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.
In 1131 the Cistercians founded a monastery at Basingwerk nearby, which was enriched by Henry II. At that time the monks probably had charge of the well, though the spot was a place of pilgrimage long before that time.
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 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. There is now a beautiful Catholic church adjoining the well.
In his diary, Wilfrid Blunt (a well-known Catholic from the 1800's) tells us what he witnessed at Holywell. "Three men were being passed through the water, a priest was reciting the 'Hail Marys' and at the end of each, the name of Saint Winefred--this in an unbelieving age--miraculous! There were lighted candles and flowers and the fervor of these naked men (one a mere bag of skin and bone) was tremendous. In the dim light of a foggy day, nothing at all congruous to the 19th century was visible. It was a thing wholly of the Middle Ages--magnificent, touching" (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Metcalf, Murray).
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 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, AC April 21).
St. Wenefride, Virgin and Martyr
[Or Winefride. 1] HER father, whose name was Thevith, was very rich, and one of the prime nobility in the country, being son to Eluith, the chief magistrate, and second man in the kingdom, of North Wales, next to the king. 2 Her virtuous parents desired above all things to breed her up in the fear of God, and to preserve her soul untainted amidst the corrupt air of the world. About that time St. Beuno, Benno, or Benow, a holy priest and monk, who is said to have been uncle to our saint by the mother, having founded certain religious houses in other places, came and settled in that neighbourhood. Thevith rejoiced at his arrival, gave him a spot of ground free from all burden or tribute to build a church on, and recommended his daughter to be instructed by him in Christian piety. 3 When the holy priest preached to the people, Wenefride was placed at his feet, and her tender soul eagerly imbibed his heavenly doctrine, and was wonderfully affected with the great truths which he delivered, or rather which God addressed to her by his mouth. The love of the sovereign and infinite good growing daily in her heart, her affections were quite weaned from all the things of this world: and it was her earnest desire to consecrate her virginity by vow to God, and, instead of an earthly bridegroom, to choose Jesus Christ for her spouse. Her parents readily gave their consent, shedding tears of joy, and thanking God for her holy resolution. She first made a private vow of virginity in the hands of St. Beuno, and some time after received the religious veil from him, with certain other pious virgins, in whose company she served God in a small nunnery which her father had built for her, under the direction of St. Beuno, near Holy-Well. 4 After this, St. Beuno returned to the first monastery which he had built at Clunnock or Clynog Vaur, about forty miles distant, and there soon after slept in our Lord. His tomb was famous there in the thirteenth century. Leland mentions, 5 that St. Benou founded Clunnock Vaur, a monastery of white monks, in a place given him by Guithin, uncle to one of the princes of North Wales. His name occurs in the English Martyrology.
After the death of St. Beuno, St. Wenefride left Holy-Well, and after putting herself for a short time under the direction of St. Deifer, entered the nunnery of Gutherin in Denbighshire, under the direction of a very holy abbot called Elerius, who governed there a double monastery. After the death of the abbess Theonia, St. Wenefride was chosen to succeed her. Leland speaks of St. Elerius as follows: 6 “Elerius was anciently, and is at present in esteem among the Welch. I guess that he studied at the banks of the Elivi where now St. Asaph’s stands. He afterwards retired in the deserts. It is most certain that he built a monastery in the vale of Cluide, which was double and very numerous of both sexes. Amongst these was the most noble virgin Guenvrede, who had been educated by Beuno, and who suffered death, having her head cut off by the furious Caradoc.” 7 Leland mentions not the stupendous miracles which Robert of Salop and others relate on that occasion, 8 though in the abstract of her life inserted in an appendix to the fourth volume of the last edition of Leland’s Itinerary 9 she is said to have been raised to life by the prayers of St. Beuno. In all monuments and calendars she is styled a martyr; all the accounts we have of her agree that Caradoc or Cradoc, son of Alain, prince of that country, having violently fallen in love with her, gave way so far to his brutish passion, that, finding it impossible to extort her consent to marry him, or gratify his desires, in his rage he one day pursued her, and cut off her head, as she was flying from him to take refuge in the church which St. Beuno had built at Holy-Well. Robert of Shrewsbury and some others add, that Cradoc was swallowed up by the earth upon the spot; secondly, that in the place where the head fell, the wonderful well which is seen there sprang up, with pebble stones and large parts of the rock in the bottom stained with red streaks, and with moss growing on the sides under the water, which renders a sweet fragrant smell; 10 and thirdly, that the martyr was raised to life by the prayers of St. Beuno, and bore ever after a mark of her martyrdom, by a red circle on her skin about her neck. If these authors, who lived a long time after these transactions, were by some of their guides led into any mistakes in any of these circumstances, neither the sanctity of the martyr nor the devotion of the place can be hereby made liable to censure. St. Wenefride died on the 22d of June, as the old panegyric preached on her festival, mentioned in the notes, and several of her lives testify: the most ancient life of this saint, in the Cottonian manuscript, places her death or rather her burial at Guthurin on the 24th of June. The words are: “The place where she lived with the holy virgins was called Guthurin, where sleeping, on the eighth before the calends of July, she was buried, and rests in the Lord.” Her festival was removed to the 3d of November, probably on account of some translation; and in 1391, Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, with his clergy in convocation assembled, ordered her festival to be kept on that day throughout his province with an office of nine lessons, 11 which is inserted in the Saurum Breviary. The time when this saint lived is not mentioned in any of her lives; most with Alford and Cressy think it was about the close of the seventh century. Her relics were translated from Guthurin to Shrewsbury in the year 1138, and deposited with great honour in the church of the Benedictin abbey which had been founded there, without the walls, in 1083, by Roger Earl of Montgomery. Herbert, abbot of that house, procured the consent of the diocesan, the bishop of Bangor, (for the bishopric of St. Asaph’s in which Guthurin is situated, was only restored in 1143,) and caused the translation to be performed with great solemnity, as is related by Robert, then prior of that house, (probably the same who was made bishop of Bangor in 1210,) who mentions some miraculous cures performed on that occasion to which he was eye-witness. The shrine of this saint was plundered at the dissolution of monasteries.
Several miracles were wrought through the intercession of this saint at Guthurin, Shrewsbury, and especially Holy-Well. To instance some examples: Sir Roger Bodenham, knight of the Bath, after he was abandoned by the ablest physicians and the most famous colleges of that faculty, was cured of a terrible leprosy by bathing in this miraculous fountain in 1606; upon which he became himself a Catholic, and gave an ample certificate of his wonderful cure signed by many others. Mrs. Jane Wakeman of Sussex, in 1630, brought to the last extremity by a terrible ulcerated breast, was perfectly healed in one night by bathing thrice in that well, as she and her husband attested. A poor widow of Kidderminster in Worcestershire, had been long lame and bed-ridden, when she sent a single penny to Holy-Well to be given to the first poor body the person should meet with there; and at the very time it was given at Holy-Well, the patient arose in perfect health at Kidderminster. This fact was examined and juridically attested by Mr. James Bridges, who was afterwards sheriff of Worcester, in 1651. Mrs. Mary Newman had been reduced to a skeleton, and to such a decrepit state and lameness that for eighteen years she had not been able to point or set her foot on the ground. She tried all helps in England, France, and Portugal, but in vain. At last she was perfectly cured in the very well whilst she was bathing herself the fifth time. Roger Whetstone, a quaker near Bromsgrove, by bathing at Holy-Well was cured of an inveterate lameness and palsy; by which he was converted to the Catholic faith. Innumerable such instances might be collected. Cardinal Baronius 12 expresses his astonishment at the wonderful cures which the pious bishop of St. Asaph’s, the pope’s vicegerent for the episcopal functions at Rome, related to him as an eye-witness. See St. Wenefride’s life, written by Robert prior of Shrewsbury, translated into English with frequent abridgments and some few additions from other authors, (but not without some mistakes,) first by F. Alford, whose true name was Griffith, afterwards by J. F., both Jesuits: and printed in 1635; and again with some alterations and additional late miracles by F. Metcalf, S. J. in 1712. Lluydh, in his catalogue of Welch manuscripts, mentions two lives of St. Wenefride in that language, one in the hands of Humphrey, then bishop of Hereford, the other in the college of Jesus, Oxon.
Note 1. This name in the English-Saxon tongue signifies Winner, or Procurer of Peace; but in the British Fair Countenance. (Camd. Rem. p. 104.) The English Saxons in West-Sex seem to have borrowed it from the neighbouring Britons; for St. Winfrid changed his name in foreign countries into Boniface, a Latin word of the same import. St. Boniface by this change rendered a rough uncouth name familiar to foreigners among whom he lived. Otherwise, such changes, made without reason, occasioned great obscurity in history. Yet this madness has sometimes seized men. Erstwert, or Blackland, would be called from the Greek Melancthon; Newman, Neander; Brooke, Torrentius; Fenne, Paludanus; Du Bois, Sylvius; Reucklin or Smoke, Capnion, &c.
That this was the etymology of St. Wenefride’s name appears—first, because she was of British extraction; secondly, in the best MSS., and by the most correct antiquarians, she is called Wenefride, or Guenfride, or Guenvera; and thirdly, in her Cottonian life by an allusion to her name she is styled the Fair Wenefride, Candida Wenefreda. [back]
Note 2. The English editor J. F., construing ill the text of Prior Robert, says: “Eluith the Second was then king;” whereas the author says: “Eluith was the second man from the king. Thevith qui fuit filius summi senatoris et a rege secundi, Eluith.” [back]
Note 3. Vit. Wenefr. in app. ad Lei. Itiner. t. 4, p. 128, ed. Nov. [back]
Note 4. Several objections made by some Protestants to this history are obviated by the remarks on the saint’s name, and other circumstances inserted in this account of her life. They allege the silence of Bede, Nennius, Doomsday Book, and Giraldus Cambrensis. Bede wrote only the church history of the English, which the king had desired of him. If he touches upon the British affairs, it is only by way of introduction. He no where names St. David, St. Kentigern, and many other illustrious British saints. Nennius, abbot of Bangor, wrote his history of the Britons, according to Cave and Tanner, about the year 620; but, according to the best manuscript copies of his book (see Usher, p. 217, et ed. Galæi, p. 93,) in 858; but is a very imperfect and inaccurate historian, and gives no account of that part of Wales where St. Wenefride lived. At least Bede preceded her; which is also probable of Nennius, who certainly brings not his history down low enough. Doomsday Book was a survey to give an estimate of families and lands. A well or prodigy was not an object for such a purpose; and many places are omitted in it, because comprised under neighbouring manors. Giraldus Cambrensis, bishop of St. David’s, in South Wales, wrote his Itinerary of Wales in the year 1188, and died in 1210; before which times we have certain monuments extant of St. Wenefride and Holy-Well. Many unknown accidents occasion much greater omission in authors. Giraldus is very superficial, except in Brecknockshire, of which he was archdeacon. He had imbibed at Paris an implacable enmity against the monks of his age, (though he commends their founders and institutes,) which he discovers in all his works, especially in his Speculum Ecclesiæ, or De Monasticis Ordinibus, a manuscript in the Cottonian library. His spleen was augmented after he lost his bishopric at Rome. He probably never visited this well, nor the neighbouring monastery: or omitted them, because lately described by the Prior Robert and others. What omissions are there not in Leland himself relating to this very point? No wonder if St. Wenefride is omitted in an old calendar of St. David’s, which church in South-Wales kept its own festivals, but not those of North Wales, as other examples show.
We have now extant a MS. life of St. Wenefride, in the Cottonian library, written soon after the conquest of England by the Normans, whom it calls French, (consequently about the year 1100,) in which manuscript her body is said to have been then at Guthurin, says Bishop Fleetwood. A second life was compiled in 1140, by Robert, prior of Shrewsbury, who gives a history of the translation of her relics to that monastery in 1138, and who discovers a scrupulous sincerity in relating only what he gathered, partly from written records found in the monasteries of North Wales, and partly from the popular traditions of ancient priests and the people. Both these lives were written before Giraldus Cambrensis; nor had Robert seen the former, their relations differing in some places. The life of St. Wenefride which came from Ramsey abbey, and was in the hands of Sir James Ware, and some others in manuscript, though copied in part from Robert’s, have sufficient differences to show other memoires to have been then extant. Her life in John of Tinmouth, copied from him by Capgrave, is an abstract from Prior Robert’s work. Alford and Cressy seem to have seen no other life than that in Capgrave. All these memoirs are mentioned by Dr. Fleetwood, bishop of St. Asaph’s, afterwards of Ely, in his Dissertation or Remarks against the Life of St. Wenefride. A manuscript which escaped the search of this learned antiquarian, is a sermon on St. Wenefride, preached, as it seems by the rest of the book, at Derby, whilst her festival was kept on the 22nd of June, immediately after it had been appointed a holiday. In it we have a short account of her life and martyrdom, with the mention of the miraculous cures of a leper covered with blotches, of a blind man, and of another who was bedridden, wrought at her shrine at Shrewsbury. This manuscript book called Festivale, is a collection of Sermons upon the Festivals, and is in the curious library of Mr. Martin of Palgrave in Suffolk. We must add the monuments and testimonies of all the churches of North-Wales about the year 1000, which amount to certain proofs of the sanctity and martyrdom of this holy virgin: and several memoirs were then extant which are now lost. Gutryn Owen, quoted by Percy Enderbie, (p. 274,) observes, that even in the twelfth century, the successions and acts of the princes of Wales were kept in the abbeys of Conwey in North-Wales (in Caernarvonshire) and of Stratflur (of Cluniac monks in Cardiganshire) in South-Wales, which are not to be found. [back]
Note 5. Itinerary, t. 5, p. 14. ed Hearnianæ. [back]
Note 6. De Scriptor. Brit. c. 49, ed Hearn. [back]
Note 7. St. Elerius was buried in a church at Gutherin, which afterwards bore his name, and his tomb was held in veneration in that place when Robert of Shrewsbury wrote; he is named in the English Martyrology on the 14th of June. He survived St. Wenefride, and is said by some to have been the original author of her life; (see Tanner, in Leland de Script., p. 258, and Vossius de Historicis Latin., p. 267, Pits, p. 109. and Bale;) but this is no where affirmed by Leland, as Bishop Fleetwood observes. [back]
Note 8. God has often wrought greater miracles than those here mentioned. But as such extraordinary events are to be received with veneration when authentically attested, so are they not to be lightly admitted. Robert of Salop had some good memoirs; but he sometimes relies upon popular reports. With regard to these miracles, we know not what vouchers he had; so that the credibility of these facts is left to every one’s discretion; as it is not impossible that some one, imagining that she had not been at Gutherin before her martyrdom, might infer, that after it she had been raised to life. It is well known that St. Dionysius of Paris, and certain other martyrs are said by some moderns to have been raised again to life, or survived their own death, and carried their several heads in their hands to certain places. Muratori thinks these accounts, which have no foundation in authentic historians or competent vouchers, to have been first taken up amongst the common people from seeing certain pictures of these martyrs with red circles about their necks, or carrying their heads in their hands, as it were offering them to God; by which no more was originally meant than to express their martyrdom. (Murat. Præf. in Spicilegium Ravennatis Historiæ, t. 1, part 2, p. 527. All these miracles are easy to Omnipotence, but must be made credible by reasonable and convincing testimonies. [back]
Note 9. Ed. Hearnii Nov. an. 1744, p. 128. [back]
Note 10. Some Protestants have ascribed the origin of Holy-Well to the monks of Basingwerk in that neighbourhood. But that monastery was only founded in 1131, by Randle, earl of Chester, first for the Grey-brothers, i. e. of the Order of Sevigny, which was soon after united to the Cistercian, which rule this house then embraced. It was so much augmented and enriched by Henry II. in 1150, that he was called the principal founder. Holy-Well was certainly a place of great devotion, and bore this name before that time. Richard, the second earl palatine of Chester, (who was afterwards drowned, in 1120, in a voyage to Normandy,) made a pilgrimage to Holy-Well, and was miraculously preserved in it from an army of Welchmen by the intercession of St. Wereburge, as is related in her life from Bradshaw. Ranulf or Randle, the nephew and successor of this earl, in his charter of the foundation of Basingwerk, in 1131, gave to that monastery, “Haly-Well, Fulbrook,” and other places. It is called Holy-Well in the charter of Henry II. by which that prince confirmed this foundation; also in a charter given to it by Leweline, prince of Wales, and David his son, in 1240. Ranulf Higden, a monk of Chester in 1360, inserts in his Polychronicon, in the part published by Gale, (p. 1,) twenty rhymes on Holy-Well at Basingwerk, in which he describes the wonderful spring stones tinged with red, miraculous cures of the sick, and devotion of the pilgrims:
Ad Basingwerk fons oritur,
Qui satis vulgò dicitur,
Et tantis bullis scaturit,
Quòd mox injecta rejicit:
Tam magnum flumen procreat.
Ut Cambriæ sufficiat:
Ægri qui dant rogamina,
Rubro guttatos lapides,
In scatebris reperies, &c.
St. Wenefride’s well is in itself far more remarkable than the celebrated fountain of Vaucluse, five leagues from Avignon, which is no more than a subterraneous river gushing out at the foot of a mountain: or that of La Source two leagues from Orleans, where the famous Lord Bolingbroke built himself a house. He could by no experiments find any bottom, the weights and cords, &c., being probably carried aside deep under water into some subterraneous river. At Holy-Well such vast quantities of water spring constantly without intermission or variation, that above twenty-six tuns are raised every minute, or fifty-two tuns two hogsheads in two minutes: for, if the water be let out, the basin and well, which contain at least two hundred and forty tuns, are filled in less than ten minutes. The water is so clear that though the basin is above four feet deep, a pin is easily perceived lying at the bottom. The spring head is a fine octagon basin, twenty-nine feet two inches in length, twenty-seven feet four inches in breadth, and eighteen feet two inches high, and is covered with a chapel. The present exquisite Gothic building was erected by Henry VII. and his mother, the Countess of Richmond and Derby. The ceiling is curiously carved, and ornamented with coats of arms, and the figures of Henry VII., his mother, and the Earl of Derby. Those who desire to bathe descend by twenty steps into the area under the chapel; but no one can bathe there in the spring head, the impetuosity with which the water springs up making it too difficult: hence the bathers descend by two circular staircases under a larger arch into the bath, which is a great basin forty-two feet long, fourteen feet seven inches broad, with a handsome flagged walk round.
Dr. Linden, an able physician, who made a considerable stay there, speaks of this well in his book On Chalibeate Waters and Natural Hot Baths, printed at London in 1748. (c. 4, p. 126.) He says, the green sweet-scented moss is frequently applied to ulcerated wounds with signal success, in the way of contracting and healing them: which powerful medicinal efficacy he supposes may be ascribed to a vegetating spirit drawn from the water. For this water is clear of all gross earth or mineral contents. This physician recommends Holy-Well as a cold bath of the first rank, and says it has on its side the experience of ages, and a series of innumerable authentic cures worked upon the most stubborn and malignant diseases, such as leprosy, weakness of nerves, and other chronical inveterate disorders. The salutary effects of cold water baths in several distempers, as well as of the use of different kinds of mineral waters in various cases, used with a proper regimen and method, and with due restriction and precautions, are incontestable and well known. Nor will any one deny such natural qualities in many of those called Holy-Wells. (See Philos. Transact, n. 57, vol. 5, p. 1160). Nevertheless, in the use of natural remedies we ought by prayer always to have recourse to God, the Almighty Physician. (2 Paralip. xvi. 12.) And it is undoubted that God is pleased often to display also a miraculous power in certain places of public devotion, and where the relics and other pledges of saints or holy things render him more propitious, as in the Probatic pond, John v. 2, &c. Thus St. Austin, ordering his clergy at Hippo to send a priest named Boniface to pray in a certain church celebrated for holy relics, said: (ep. 78. ol. 137, t. 2, p. 184. ed. Ben.) “God who created all things is in all places, and is every where to be adored in spirit and in truth. But who can explore the holy order of his providence, in dispensing his gifts, why these miracles should be done in some places and not in others? The sanctity of the place where the body of the blessed Felix of Nola is buried, is well known. And we ourselves know the like at Milan. All the saints have not the gift of healing, nor the discernment of spirits; (1 Cor. xii. 30.) so neither does it please him who distributes his gifts according to his holy will, that such things be performed, in all the memories, or chapels of the saints.” (See Instit. Cathol. or Catech. of Montpell. ed. Lat. t. 1, p. 687 & t. 2, p. 933.) Perhaps no pilgrimage in the North was for some ages more famous than that of Holy-Well, where the divine mercy was implored through the intercession of her who in that place had glorified his name and sanctified her soul. Many cures of corporal distempers, there wrought, are proved by several circumstances to have been miraculous; which the very answers of Bishop Fleetwood and other adversaries suffice to confirm. Some of them were performed through the devotion of persons at a distance from the place, mentioned in the life of this saint; and such as certainly cannot have been produced by imagination, as Bishop Fleetwood would have us believe. [back]
Note 11. Lyndewoode, fol. 76; Johnson’s Canons, t. 2, ad an. 1398. [back]
Note 12. Not. in Martyr. Rom. bac dic. [back]
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
Born at Holywell, Wales, about 600; died at Gwytherin, Wales, 3 Nov., 660. Her father was Thevit, a Cambrian magnate, the possessor of three manors in what is now Flintshire; her mother Wenlo, a sister of St. Beuno and a member of a family closely connected with the kings of South Wales. St. Beuno had led at first a solitary life, but afterwards established a community of cenobites at Clynog-vawr. While in search of a suitable place for a monastery he came to visit his sister's husband whose lands lay on a bluff overlooking the town of Holywell on the valley side of the well, and over against the present ruins of the Abbey of Basingstoke; tradition points this out as the spot on which the convent of St. Winefride was afterwards built. From this eminence there is a steep incline down to the stream and the well. In the hollow, then called the "Dry Hollow", beneath this incline St. Beuno lived and built a chapel in which he said Mass and preached to the people. Winefride was then one of his most attentive listeners. Though only fifteen years old she gave herself to a life of devotion and austerity, passing whole nights watching in the church. Prior to the conquest of Wales the saint was known as Guenevra; after that her name was changed to the English form of Winefride. She was a maiden of great personal charm and endowed with rare gifts of intellect. Under the guidance of St. Beuno, Winefride made rapid progress in virtue and learning and with her parents' consent prepared to consecrate herself to God.
The fame of her beauty and accomplishments had reached the ears of Caradoc, son of the neighbouring Prince Alen, who resolved to seek her hand in marriage. Coming in person to press his suit he entered the house of Thevit, and found Winefride alone, her parents having gone early to Mass. The knowledge that Winefride had resolved to quit the world and consecrate herself to God seemed only to add fuel to his passion, and he pleaded his cause with extraordinary vehemence, even proceeding to threats as he saw her turn indignantly away. At length, terrified at his words and alarmed for her innocence, the maiden escaped from the house, and hurried towards the church, where her parents were hearing Mass, that was being celebrated by her uncle, St. Beuno. Maddened by a disappointed passion, Caradoc pursued her and, overtaking her on the slope above the site of the present well, he drew his sword and at one blow severed her head from the body. The head rolled down the incline and, where it rested, there gushed forth a spring. St. Beuno, hearing of the tragedy, left the altar, and accompanied by the parents came to the spot where the head lay beside the spring. Taking up the maiden's head he carried it to where the body lay, covered both with his cloak, and then re-entered the church to finish the Holy Sacrifice. When Mass was ended he knelt beside the saint's body, offered up a fervent prayer to God, and ordered the cloak which covered it to be removed. Thereupon Winefride, as if awakening from a deep slumber, rose up with no sign of the severance of the head except a thin white circle round her neck. Seeing the murderer leaning on his sword with an insolent and defiant air, St. Beuno invoked the chastisement of heaven, and Caradoc fell dead on the spot, the popular belief being that the ground opened and swallowed him.
Miraculously restored to life, Winefride seems to have lived in almost perpetual ecstasy and to have had familiar converse with God. In fulfillment of her promise, she solemnly vowed virginity and poverty as a recluse. A convent was built on her father's land, where she became the abbess of a community of young maidens, and a chapel was erected over the well. St. Beuno left Holywell, and returned to Cærnarvon. Before he left the tradition is that he seated himself upon the stone, which now stands in the outer well pool, and there promised in the name of God "that whosoever on that spot should thrice ask for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winefride would obtain the grace he asked if it was for the good of his soul." St. Winefride on her part made agreement with St. Beuno that so long as she remained at Holywell, and until she heard of his death, she would yearly send him a memorial of her affection for him. After eight years spent at Holywell (reckoning from the departure of St. Beuno), St. Winefride, hearing of his death, received an inspiration to leave the convent and retire inland. There was reason to fear that Holywell would soon be no longer safe from the Saxon. The Kingdom of Northumbria was pressing upon the boarders of North Wales; Anglesea and Chester were already in the hands of the Saxon. It was time for the British recluses to seek the safety of the mountains; accordingly St. Winefride went upon her pilgrimage to seek for a place of rest. Ultimately she arrived at Gwytherin near the source of the River Elwy. This is still a most retired spot, where Welsh alone is spoken.
Some ten miles further across the vale of the Conway rises the double peak of Snowdon. St. Winefride was welcomed at Gwytherin by St. Elwy (Elerius), who gives his name to the River Elwy, and by whom the first life of the saint was written. She brought her companion religious with her, and found there other nuns governed by an abbess. She seems to have lived at Gwytherin as an acknowledged saint on earth, first in humble obedience to the abbess, and, after the latter's death, as abbess herself until her own death. Her chief feast is observed on 3 Nov., the other feast held in midsummer being that of her martyrdom. Her death was foreshown to her in a vision by Christ Himself.
During her life she performed many miracles, and after her death, up to the present day, countless wonders and favours continue to be worked and obtained through her intercession.
The details of St. Winefride's life are gathered from a manuscript in the British Museum, said to have been the work of the British monk, Elerius, a contemporary of the saint, and also from a manuscript life in the Bodleian Library, generally believed to have been compiled (1130) by Robert, prior of Shrewsbury.
Acta SS., Nov., I, 691 sq., 702 sq., 706 sq.; SWIFT, Life of S. Winefride; Winefride, Virgin and Martyr; MEYRICK, MS. Life of St. Winefride.
Chandlery, Peter. "St. Winefride." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 3 Nov. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15656a.htm>.
31 December 2008, 8:25 pm
Daughter to Trevith, a member of the Welsh landed class and advisor to the king. Spiritual student of her maternal uncle Saint Beuno Gasulsych. Physically beautiful, she made a private vow of chastity, becoming a bride of Christ. Murdered when she rejected the amorous advances of a chieftain named Caradog of Hawarden; she had escaped from him, and was seeking shelter in a church when he caught and killed her. Legend says that where her head fell, a well sprang up which became a place of pilgrimage, and whose waters were reported to heal leprosy, skin diseases, and other ailments. Saint Beuno raised her back to life; he cursed Caradog who was promptly swallowed by the earth. Winifred became a nun, and later abbess at Cwytherin, Deubighshire, Wales.
- beheaded in the early 7th century
- c.655 of natural causes at Denbighshire, Wales
- relics translated to Shrewsbury, England in 1138
- shrine destroyed and relics scattered by order of King Henry VIII in 1540
- remaining relics taken to Rome, but returned to England in 1852, and now housed at Holywell and Shrewsbury
- friend of peace (Celtic / Gaelic)
- abbess with a ring around her neck standing near the fountain
- beheaded woman carrying her head and a martyr‘s palm
- beheaded woman with a block, axe, and her head at her feet
- carrying a sword and palm with a spring of water at her feet
- Celtic maiden holding a sword with a fountain at her feet, and red ring around her neck where her head has been severed and restored
- having her head restored by Saint Beuno