Friday, 13 July 2012


  Holywell in Flintshire, North Wales, has been unique as the one pilgrimage site that has continued  unbroken despite the reformation and the penal laws, and it was here by remarkable providence on May 27th 1844 that Teresa Higginson was born.  She was to be also baptised here on June 22nd 1844, feast of the martyrdom of St. Winefride, after a long hiatus due to the shortage of priests at the time.  Her mother Mary Higginson was ill when expecting her, and went on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Winefride's well asking for the saint's intercession.   Teresa and her family all their lives had great devotion to St. Winefride, frequently coming again and again on pilgrimage, and it was in the well that her stigmata was first publicly noticed.

 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 became a nun and abbess until her second death some 22 years later. 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, with many miracles of healing in the waters.  Above is the chapel and crypt that was erected in the early 16th century, and the more recent bath added.  Below is the statue of St. Winefride by the well.


During the reformation and penal times pilgrims surreptitiously came to visit and bathe at the well, despite the attempts of the authorities to stamp this out, making records of who came to stay at the local inns and why.  King James II and his wife came on pilgrimage here asking for the birth of an heir to the throne.  After emancipation the Catholic church was built a short distance from the well in the care of the Jesuits, and in the late 19th century it became a very popular pilgrimage site for Catholics in the Northern cities, coming over by the trainload, causing Holywell to be known as the Lourdes of Wales.

Unfortunately the shrine was to go into steady decline in the 20th century, and 1921 coal mining cut off the source of the spring.  A new source of water was found and to everyone's relief, miracles continued to happen as before.  To cater for sick pilgrims a hospice was opened in the the care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul.  This was to close in the 1990's, but thankfully the Brigittine Sisters took it over and restored it, where they now run an excellent guest and retreat house with daily mass, prayers and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.


The Catholic parish church is now in the care of the Vocationalist fathers.  The main pilgrimages are the official pilgrimage on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Winefride's martyrdom on June 22nd, and the Latin Mass Society pilgrimage around early July.

 Brigittine Sisters, Holywell

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