Holy Well of St Winifred
The healing waters of St Winifred’s (Winifride) Holy Well have attracted pilgrims for over 1300 years and the crypt in which the well lies was stacked with crutches left by the cured invalids until some time in the 1960’s, though can still be seen on display.
Gwenfrewi or Gwenffrwd (St Winifred) was a chaste young Welsh woman of noble birth who had chosen to devote her life to the service of God. In 660AD Caradoc (or Caradog), a local chiefs son lusted after the young nun, who, true to her vows of chastity always managed to repulse his advances, until one day, whilst drunk, he attacked her in her home and started to tear away her clothes. She fled towards her uncle’s (St Beuno) church, hoping that he would be able to aid her, but Prince Caradoc was quicker and caught her on a hillside. Winifred fought back, so Caradoc, in a fit of rage beheaded her with his sword. St Beuno had been inside the church and came outside to find Winifred’s decapitated corpse with Caradoc stood over her. A spring had welled up from the ground at the spot where Winifred had fallen, a true gift from God. St Beuno then cursed Caradoc, who immediately died and melted. Being a gifted man himself, St Beuno replaced St Winifreds head on her neck, and after a short prayer the wound was healed and the young woman was resurrected, leaving only a slight scar. St Bueno then cursed the family of Caradoc who started to bark as if they were hounds. They could only be cured if they bathed in the healing water of the well created at the site of Winifred’s attempted rape and murder. Red marked stones at the bottom of the well are said to be stained with blood of St Winifred, who’s remains have been in Shrewsbury Abbey in 1138. Winifred actually died though at Gwytherin where she had become Abbess and where her body had been laid to rest become moving her to Shrewsbury.
Apparently in the 1880’s the spring fed Well reputedly discharged twenty tons of water or three thousand gallons per minute at a temperature of 50 degrees. Early in the 20th century the well dried up due to mining on Halkyn Mountain as the water was diverted. The well today is fed by the local water utilities so it will not have the same mineral properties as thse the early pilgrims would have taken advantage of.
The Well has been a place of pilgrimage since the 7th century and many notables have visited it’s healing waters, including Richard I (before departing on the crusade), James II, Henry V, Dr. Samuel Johnson ( who remarked on indecency of a woman bathing there) and supposedly by those involved in the Gunpowder Plot.
Obviously the tale of Winifred being resurrected could not have physically happened, but the legend may have some links to actual events. Winifred was related to the Royal house of Powys and I found a reference that her brother, Owain, was said to have killed Caradoc in act of vengeance.
An anonymous rhyme written in the 18th Century names St Winifreds Well as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales:
Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride wells,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.