According to the legend, St Winefride's Well first erupted at the spot where her would-be rapist Caradog cut off her head with his sword. Restored to life at the prayers of her uncle St Beuno, Winefride lived as a nun until her second death some 22 years later. Whatever the exact truth of her legend, Winefride herself was real rather than legendary, and the extraordinary and enduring personality of this 7th-century Welsh woman has meant that she has been venerated as a saint ever since the moment of her death. Since that time, too, her Well at Holywell has been a place of pilgrimage and healing – the only such place in Britain with a continuous history of public pilgrimage for over 13 centuries.
Image 1 - The martyrdom of St Winefride. Nineteenth century repainting of the 1583 fresco by Pomerancio, in the chapel of the Venerable English College in Rome.
Surviving records of cures claimed after bathing at the Well begin in the 12th century, and continue to the present; and the shrine still possesses a fine collection of wooden crutches discarded by the cured in former times.
Image 2 - These crutches, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can be seen today in the Exhibition Centre at the Well
The present shrine building is a glorious 2-storey Late Perpendicular Gothic building erected in the first years of the 16th century, and is unique in the world. It is a Grade I Listed Building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Well precinct also houses an Interpretive Exhibition setting forth the story of the saint and her shrine in detail; and the Victorian former custodians' house has been converted to house a museum of the pilgrimage.
Image 3 - Interior of the Well crypt, showing the spring basin
The holy well is still a major place of Catholic pilgrimage, but all our visitors, of all faiths or of none at all, are made welcome at the Well, to share its unique mixture of history, beauty, and peace. Let us welcome you to this ancient holy place, for so long described as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales.
Image 4 - View of the holy well, looking down from the gallery in the Well crypt
For audio/video guided tour of the well and site, please click this link