St Winefride lived in the first half of the Seventh Century, and her Well at Holywell has been a place of continuous pilgrimage from her day to our own. Certainly since the Twelfth Century the Saint’s main feast day at Holywell has been 22 June, the traditional anniversary of her martyrdom and restoration to life; and for as long as we have detailed records - the late middle ages - that day has been observed as the principal annual day of pilgrimage to the Well, celebrated with a Mass and procession in the Saints honour. Currently this Annual National Pilgrimage takes place on 22 nd June, if a Sunday, or on the Sunday next following. For a very special reason, in 2005 the pilgrimage was anticipated, and was held on the Sunday before 22nd June, on the 19th.
For some years now work has been ongoing at the Shrine, creating an Exhibition Hall setting out in detail the story of the Saint and the history of her holy well for the nearly 30,000 pilgrims and tourists who visit the Shrine each year. An audio trail facility has been installed, to allow visitors to guide themselves around the site, and the Victorian former Well keepers’ House has been converted to house a Museum and Library of the pilgrimage. The Museum displays a number of beautiful and historically and artistically important objects relating to the history of the pilgrimage, and the library is intended as a resource for scholars and students researching the story of the Saint and her Well. The then Diocesan, Bishop Edwin Regan, of Wrexham, invited the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor to preside at the 2005 National Pilgrimage and to formally open the newly created facilities; and to fit in with the Cardinal’s busy schedule, the date of the pilgrimage was moved forward to 19th June. His Eminence concelebrated Mass at the Shrine with Archbishop Peter Smith, of Cardiff, Bishop Regan of Wrexham and Bishop Mark Jabal ê, OSB, of Menevia, with more than twenty other priests.
The day began in the late morning with the arrival of the Cardinal and Bishop Regan at the entrance to the Shrine complex, where they were greeted by the parish priest of St. Winefride`s, Holywell, Fr Terence Carr. Here, His Eminence was introduced to local dignitaries and their wives and husbands: the Chairman of Flintshire County Council, Councillor Peter Curtis; Cllr Gordon Lloyd, the Mayor of Holywell; David Hanson, MP for Delyn; and Mrs Sandy Mewies, the Assembly Member for Delyn. Inside the entrance, Well custodians Mr and Mrs John L’Aiguille, along with former custodians Mr and Mrs Alun Williams and Mr and Mrs Francis Hanson, were presented to His Eminence.
To great applause from a group of invited guests, the Cardinal next entered the Exhibition Hall, where he formally opened the new visitor facilities. Unveiling a plaque of Corris slate bearing a bilingual inscription commemorating the event, His Eminence expressed his warm appreciation of all the effort offered by so many towards honouring St Winefride, this great Welsh woman who had done so much for the Faith, and towards making her story known to future generations. As a memento of the occasion the Cardinal was presented with a wooden plaque depicting the Well, carved from local sycamore by Holywell craftsman Gordon Barnabus. His Eminence said that the gift would be given a place of honour in Archbishop`s House, and act as a treasured reminder of his first pilgrimage to Holywell.
Accompanied by Bishop Regan and Fr Carr, the Cardinal then paid a private visit to the Shrine, the holy well of St Winefride in the crypt of the glorious and unique 2-storey Late Perpendicular building erected in the early years of the Sixteenth Century by its then caretakers, the Cistercian monks of the nearby Basingwerk Abbey.
The Cardinal’s party then made its way to the new Museum and library, where Historian Tristan Gray Hulse and Librarians Miss Celia Murphy and Mrs Christine York were presented to His Eminence. The Cardinal congratulated them on the impressive collections of artefacts and documents, and commented on the fact that they constituted a valuable resource for the history of the Catholic Church in Britain. Before leaving the Museum for a reception, His Eminence signed the Visitors’ Book. Following his departure, the civic guests and other dignitaries who had attended the formal opening also visited the Museum and Library. (Now open to the public, the Museum has quickly established itself as one of the highlights of a visit to the Shrine.)
The reception for the Cardinal was held in the chapel above the Well crypt. Here, in addition to all those present at the formal opening, other guests had been invited to greet the Cardinal, all of whom in some way had been involved in the newly – opened project, or who assisted the parish priest in all aspects of administering the parish and Shrine, or in organising the National Pilgrimage. Particularly commented on by those who attended the reception was the friendly and informal way in which the Cardinal made a point of speaking to every person present.