St Winefride's Well

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St Winefride's Well: bathing pool and changing tents

St Winefride's or Winifred's Well[1] is a well located in Holywell in Flintshire, which gves the town its name. It is claimed to be the oldest continually visited pilgrimage site in Great Britain.[2] The Gatehouse ot the chapel and well is a grade II listed structure.[3]

The well is one of the few locations mentioned by name in the anonymous mediæval alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.


St Winefrid's Well, c1790

Mediæval tradition asserted that the healing waters of the well have caused 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 Gwenffrewi (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, St Beuno. [4][5]

The well is known as "the Lourdes of Wales" and is mentioned in an old rhyme as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. It has been a pilgrimage site since the 7th century.[6]

After a shrine was established in Shrewsbury around 1138, it and St Winefride's Well became important pilgrimage destinations.

King Richard I 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.[5]

In the late 15th century, Lady Margaret Beaufort had built a chapel overlooking the well, which now opens onto a pool where visitors may bathe.[5]

Some of the structures at the well date from the reign of King Henry VII]] or earlier. This though was though be the last of the royal honours for the well.

At the Henrician Reformation, under King Henry VIII, the shrine and saintly relics were destroyed and pilgrimages were stopped.

In the 17th century the well became known as a symbol of the survival of Roman Catholic recusancy in Wales.[7] From early in their mission to England, the Jesuits supported the well. In 1605, many of those involved with the Gunpowder plot visited it with Father Edward Oldcorne to give thanks for his deliverance from cancer, or as some said, to plan the plot.[8]

The most prominent recusant of the age, King James II, is said to have visited the well with his Queen, Mary of Modena, during 1686, after several failed attempts to produce a male heir to the throne.[5] (Mary did give birth to a son, James, in 1688, though he was never to see the throne as the King was overthrown soon after his son's birth).

Princess Victoria, later Queen, staying in Holywell with her uncle King Leopold of Belgium, visited the Well in 1828.[9] The spelling 'Winefride' seems to come from the 19th century romantic imagination too.[10]

Gallery of images

Outside links


  1. e.g. Toby Barnard, "Triangular Lives", Times Literary Supplement, 20 June 2008 page 11.
  3. Gatehouse to St Winefride's Chapel & Well, Greenfield Street, Holywell - British Listed Buildings
  4. Holywell Tourist site
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Alexander, Marc (2002) A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, p.264-265
  6. BBC. "Seven wonders of Wales".
  7. Toby Barnard, "Triangular Lives", Times Literary Supplement, 20 June 2008 page 11.
  8. Lives of the Saints By Alban Butler, Peter Doyle, ISBN 0-86012-253-0
  9. Royal pilgrims visitors
  10. The truth and legend of St Winefride and Gwytherin: BBC 1 February 2010
  • T. W. Pritchard. St Winefride, Her Holy Well and the Jesuit Mission c.660-1930. Bridge Books, 2009.