As part of the recent refurbishment at the Well, the Victorian former Custodian’s House was restored, and fitted out to function as a Library and Museum housing collections of documents and artifacts illustrating the life and cultus of St Winefride and the long history of the pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well. The Museum and Library are administered by the St Winefride’s Well Museum Committee, appointed by the Diocesan Trustees and His Lordship the Bishop. The complex was opened by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on 19 June 2005.
The Library contains books and documents relating to all aspects of the history of the parish and Well; perhaps the most impressive – and certainly the most touching – being the hundreds of letters and other documents relating to the numerous cures claimed through the intercession of St Winefride at the Well over the last 150 years.
The Museum occupies two rooms on the first floor of the former Custodian’s House. The structural nature of this 19th century Victorian building prevents wheelchair access from within the shrine. However, access is possible through a different gate. Contact the Custodian on arrival for access. Despite its small size, the Museum houses an impressive collection of rare and interesting items, all related in some manner to St Winefride and the Holywell pilgrimage. Amongst these, the following may be singled out for special mention:
a significant portion of a c.800 AD wooden reliquary casket known as the Arch Gwenfrewy, “St Winefride’s Shrine”: the only such survival from Early Medieval Wales, it appears to be the earliest surviving material witness to the cultus of a native saint in Wales;
a dug-out oak chest dating perhaps from the 13 th century, from Gwytherin, in Denbighshire: at one time popularly known as “St Winefride’s Coffin”, it was apparently first constructed to contain the Arch Gwenfrewy;
two beautiful mid-17th century chalice veils embroidered with depictions of St Winefride, and signed by the embroidress Mary Bodenham – Mary was the principal testator to the fact of the cure of her father-in-law Sir Roger Bodenham at the Well in 1606;
a mid-17th-century child’s bodice: a very rare example of the clothing of ordinary people of the period, it survived simply because it had been used to wrap the relics of numbers of contemporary Catholic martyrs when these were hidden away at the Star Inn (today, the presbytery – the relics are exhibited in the case alongside the bodice);
five painted banners depicting St Winefride and other saints, painted in 1896/7 by Frederick Rolfe (“Baron Corvo”): commissioned by and for the shrine, the banners are the most significant surviving examples of this writer/artist’s paintings.
Staffed by volunteers from St Winefride’s parish, the Museum is open between 12.00 and 16.00 hours, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1st April until 30th September, also on summer bank holidays, or at other times by prior appointment. The Museum has proved a popular addition to the Well facilities: Each year since opening during these limited hours 5,000 visitors have seen this exciting and informative collection, and their comments in the Visitors’ Book clearly show how much this new extension to the Well’s ancient example of witness to the faith.
For access to the library and archive please click here