Feast day: November 3
In Welsh her name is Gwenfrewi. She was the niece of the great Saint Beuno the Wonderworker and she lived with her parents higher up the valley from his cell and wattle chapel, on the hill where the parish church now stands. According to tradition, Caradoc the son of a local chieftain sought refreshment from her while out hunting and then attempted to seduce her. She repelled his advances and ran towards her uncle’s chapel for sanctuary.
Caradoc pursued her and in a rage struck off her head with his sword. A spring of water began to flow where her head fell. Saint Beuno replaced her head and, through fervent prayer to the Saviour, she was brought back to life.
Saint Winefride began to follow the monastic life, under the spiritual direction of Saint Eleri. She remained with her uncle until he moved to Clynnog Fawr on the Lleyn peninsula. Then, after staying briefly at Bodfari and Henllan near Denbigh, Saint Winefride travelled west to the hills high above the Conwy valley and there she established a monastery of nuns in the village of Gwytherin. She passed to her reward, still relatively young, in about the year 650 and she was laid to rest by Saint Eleri who had first professed her.
The saint’s relics were taken to the Benedictine abbey at Shrewsbury in 1138, remaining there until they were despoiled and scattered during the Reformation. Only one finger remained and this precious relic is today preserved and venerated in the Roman Catholic church in Holywell. At Gwytherin no memory of her remains, apart from the dedication of the church, for her stone chapel was demolished 300 years ago. Her great bell, which could only be tolled by four men, was broken up for scrap in 1730.
It is above all at Holywell that Saint Winefride is remembered. Through her intercessions, many miracles have been worked at the Holy Well, which can claim to be the oldest place of unbroken pilgrimage in Britain. In 1416 Henry V went there on foot from Shrewsbury to give thanks for his great victory at Agincourt. The visits of pilgrim have never ceased and we too shall be of their number. For us Saint Winefride is united in Orthodox faith with Alban our protomartyr, with David and Beuno, Cuthbert and Aidan, Columba and Patrick – with all the Holy Orthodox saints of the undivided Church whose light has shone in our land.
At His baptism in the Jordan, Christ redeemed a distorted and unbalanced natural order, transforming water into a channel of grace and healing. May it be so for us all as we receive the holy water of His saint.
The Troparion of Saint Winifride in Tone 4.
Suffering death for your virginity, O holy Winifride, through God’s mercy your body was made whole and restored to life. Thy healing grace flows in streams of living water. Pray to God for us, that our souls may be saved.
The Chapel and Well:
The chapel of Saint Winefride (1490‑1500) is a gem, with many interesting decorative carvings in the nave and sanctuary. It was built through the munificence of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, whose son ascended the throne as Henry VII after his victory at Bosworth Field. The chapel is bare of all furnishings except on our pilgrimage when the chapel is once again set up as an Orthodox church. The well is presently undergoing a major restoration by CADW and this year we will have to put up with the continuing presence of scaffolding within the well-house. The work does not prevent us from blessing the waters and, for those who wish to, entering the pool itself.
How to get there:
Holywell is easily found ( Chester 18, Mold 9, Rhyl 14, Shrewsbury 49), being on the main A55 trunk road to Conwy. Enter the town from the by-pass and follow the brown signs down the hill to the Chapel and the Well which lies below it.
Information provided by Fr. Pancratios Sanders