Tuesday, 7 February 2012

My day out to Holywell!

I was attending a meeting in Flintshire and felt I should make the most of my time up there and find somewhere to visit.  I was advised that Holywell was a good place to see, somewhere I yet again knew very little about!

St Winefride’s Well has been a place of pilgrimage since the seventh century and is the oldest continually visited pilgrimage site in Great Britain, so I thought I should take a look. After visiting St Mary’s well near Aberdaron (if you would like to learn more then please, read the blog post about it!) I was intrigued by ‘Pilgrimage’ and eager to study it further.  In comparison to St Mary’s Well, The Well Chapel of St Winefride has a far more serene and traditional setting, both incredibly beautiful but so very different.  Unlike St Mary’s Well which is set among craggy rocks on a cliff’s edge, St Winefride’s Well lies in highly maintained grounds within a beautiful chapel and is slightly easier to access- there was no need to check tide times during this trip!

St. Winefride’s Well is said to be the most famous healing well in Great Britain and the waters  are reported to cause miraculous cures, I was feeling fine and healthy that day so unfortunately I could not test this theory. The legend behind the well is quite entertaining and stems from the failed seduction attempt of a Chieftan named Caradoc upon a Winefride, Gwenfrewi in Welsh, the daughter of a local prince named Tewyth. Unfortunately Caradoc did not seem to take rejection very well and as she ran away toward a church built by her uncle St. Beuno he cut off cut off her head. Where her head fell a spring of water sprouted and it is that place where the well can now be found. Luckily for Winefride her uncle prayed (profusely I imagine) and placed her head back on her body and she came back to life! The ending of the story was not so happy for Caradoc as he sunk to the ground and was never seen again.  It is said that this tale was not written down until 500 years after her death and therefore may have been embellished slightly, but I shall leave it to you to make up more mind, I personally quite like to believe it!
Statue of St Winefride

I hope that this blog entertains you and will hopefully encourage you to visit the places that I have if you like the sound of them, I do not therefore wish to report the entire history and details of where I go. However I must explain that the architecture of the Gothic perpendicular chapel that surrounds the Well is rather stunning and frames it perfectly.  I am no expert in architecture or religious building but I couldn’t help but be impressed by this one.
The incredible architecture surrounding the Well

It seems that I among some rather remarkable people to have visited the well, including royalty such as Richard I, Henry V and Princess Victoria. Rumor also had it that certain key figures visited the shrine to discuss the Gunpowder plot in 1605. It is clear that the Well is considered an important pilgrimage site and, if like me you have now been converted to research the subject I would definitely recommend a visit here.

I still had time before my meeting and therefore drove five minutes down the road to Basignwerk Abbey, a place which has strong links with St. Winefride’s Well. The Abbey itself is set in the beautiful Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and is in slight ruins, which I felt only adds to its character. I was the only person there for a while and it was such a tranquil place to wander around.  The monks at Basingwerk were confirmed the possession of the Well and Chapel in 1240 by David ap Llywelyn and cared for it for almost 300 years until 1537 when the monastery was dissolved.There really is an fascinating background to St Winefried’s Well and and Basignwerk monastery and if anything I have mentioned has interested you then I would certainly encourage you take a visit.
Me at Basingwerk Abbey

Pantaspah Franciscan Friary Retreat Centre and St David's Church
My time there however was over and I was advised by a kind couple who run the gift shop and ticket office at the Well to visit Pantaspah Franciscan Friary Retreat Centre. I had just enough time to take a quick peak and it was definitely worth it. The Frairy is beautifully maintained and although I was not a guest staying at the retreat I found it easy to appreciate the quietness and serenity.  Pantasaph’s St David’s Church is quite spectacular and is a place I’m eager to see again. If you are religious the centre run’s all sorts of programmes for those wishing for some quiet to time to reflect and pray and  they also have a seeker’s programmes for others who wish to learn more about Catholic Spirituality. If you are in fact one of those people I would say ‘go fo it!’ as it’s a fantastic spot! For more information see http://www.pantasaph.org.uk.

I was then on my way to my meeting and the surrounding countryside of Holywell is amazing. I travelled back home through the Denbighshire Moors which were covered by snow and I must say I think that the drive home was arguably the highlight of trip. The stunning surroundings made my journey one that I did not want to end and despite seeing some incredible buildings that day, I realised that the Welsh countryside is difficult to compete with!

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