Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Catholics and Anglicans combine to develop Holywell shrine

St Winefride's Well, Holywell – Well Hopper

The Catholic and the Anglican Churches in Wales have announced they will co-operate on plans to “develop” Holywell, the ancient shrine of St Winefride.

The Catholic Bishop of Wrexham, Peter Brignall, and the Anglican Bishop of St Asaph, Gregory Cameron, have signed a pledge to develop Holywell as “an integrated place of worship, pilgrimage and tourism of World Heritage class”.

A place of pilgrimage since 1115, the Flintshire shrine comprises a well of holy water.

According to legend, this rose from the ground where St Winefride’s head fell after Caradoc, a Welsh prince, beheaded her for spurning his advances. Her uncle, St Beuno later restored Winefride’s head, and she led a holy life near Denbigh, becoming known as “the Welsh Lazarus”.

To this day, visitors may bathe in the waters of the well, and attend Mass at St Winefride’s parish in Holywell. The shrine also includes the Anglican Church of St James, where services were held until 2007.

Recently, £500,000 has been raised to fund a “well-being” centre at St James’s Church. This will include a space for healing prayer, Christian counselling and bereavement support as well as a community cinema, and a coffee shop which, assisted by local charities, will employ people with mental health issues.

The bishops’ statement recognises “the complex history of the site” which has led to “different bodies having ownership of various parts of the shrine”.

But they promise to respect “the continuous patterns of worship and spirituality at the site” and the “rights of different stakeholders”, while working “as far as possible” to secure “a future for the site as a place of historic cultural and religious to all members of the Christian oikumene and indeed, all people of good will from all faiths.”

Bishop Brignall added: “The history and tradition of Saint Winefride and Holywell provide an opportunity for the church in the twenty-first century as a place of witness and evangelisation.

“So many facets of Winefride’s story will appeal today. In some ways she can be seen as a patron or example for women who experience domestic violence... There will be people who come for the heritage...but also those who come for healing and an encounter with the divine physician through Winefride.

“St Winefride’s Well is also a reminder that faith is the centre of ordinary life. The pre-Victorian engravings on the walls tell a story of people washing their clothes in the holy well.”