St. Winifred’s Well
St. Winifred’s Well, a holy healing well in northern Wales
(United Kingdom), is a site related to ancient Celtic Christianity
that has come back into prominence as a result of the contemporary
Celtic revival. The legend of the well goes back to
the fifth century C.E. and the movement of Christian hermits
into the region. Among those who studied Christianity with the
hermits was Winifred, the daughter of a Welsh chieftain. One
day she was attacked by another chieftain and refused his advances.
In his anger, he cut off her head. Where the severed
head fell, a healing spring well gushed forth. Where her blood
splattered the moss turned red and began to emit an odor like
violets. The head rolled into a nearby chapel where Bueno, one
of the hermits, retrieved it, carried it to the body, and prayed
over Winifred. She returned to life. At a later date, Bueno
blessed the well and promised that all who came to the well
would receive an answer to their prayer.
While the story of Winifred and Bueno is set in the fifth century,
it can be dated as a legend only to the twelfth century.
Since that time the well has been in use as a healing spring and
relics believed to belong to Winifred were placed in the church
at Shrewsbury. During the Middle Ages, pilgrims would go to
Shrewsbury and then to the well. Along the route they passed
stones said to have been covered with her blood. The wife of
Henry VII built a large building over the well in 1500. However,
not long afterwards, the cult of Winifred was disrupted when
King Henry VIII, who at one time had visited the well, moved
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. St. Winifred’s Well
1503
against the monasteries and pilgrimage sites across his land.
The stones along the pilgrimage site were scattered and the relics
lost. Only a single finger believed to be Winifred’s survived
and was hidden away in Rome until 1852, when it was sent back
to England and divided between Shrewsbury and the well.
When the Church of England replaced the Roman Catholic
Church as the official state religion, Winifred’s Well remained
a focus of Catholicism in England. Pilgrims continued to come
to the site and reported healing through the years that Catholicism
was officially outlawed in England. When the church was
again given legal status in the middle of the nineteenth century,
the well immediately became the scene of official pilgrimages.
Today, both Anglicans and Catholics utilize the well
shrine. The Church of England sponsors an annual pilgrimage
for the handicapped. The Catholic priest in the church adjacent
to the shrine blesses pilgrims with Winifred’s finger relic.
Though it is not as famous as Lourdes, many healings have
been reported from the shrine.
Sources
Charles-Edwards, T. Saint Winifrede and Her Well. London
Catholic Truth Society, 1971.
David, Christopher. Saint Winifrede’s Well. Slough, UK Kennion
Press, 1969.
Jones, Francis. The Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff University of
Wales, 1992.

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