St. Gwenvrewi of Holywell, Abbess of Denbighshire, Wales
(Winefride, Winifred, Winefride, Wenefrida,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Holywell - Clwyd
by Roy Fry & Tristan Gray Hulse
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
"The Lives and Miracles of St. Winifred of Holywell and Shrewsbury."
Translated by Hugh Feiss, OSB. Toronto: Peregrina Publishing Co, 1999.
Lives kindly supplied by:
For All the Saints:
These Lives are archived at:
content © 2008, Ambrose Mooney
layout © 2008, Kathleen Hanrahan and Mo! Langdon
Page last updated: 16 November 2008
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