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St Winefride's Well and Well Chapel

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Map ReferenceSJ17NE
Grid ReferenceSJ1851076270
Unitary (Local) AuthorityFlintshire
Old CountyFlintshire

St Winifride's Well and Well chapel is a mid to late fifteenth century perpendicular-style rectangular structure of two storeys.

The upper level is occupied by the chapel nave, with a north aisle and a polygonal chancel apse opening onto the east. Below is the well chamber, with a central arcaded basin surrounded by an ambulatory, having an open arcade on the north. It was thought to have been built by order of Lady Margaret Beaufort.

The chapel lies immediately east of St James's church (nprn 300321).

The legend of Saint Winefride, or Winifride, is of a seventh century Welsh noble woman who decided to dedicate her life to the service of the Christian church and become a nun. Enraged by her decision, her former suitor, Caradoc, confronted her and cut off her head, which rolled down a hill. Witnessing the murder of his niece, Saint Beuno rushed to the place where Winefride's head had come to rest and brought it back to her lifeless body. Invoking judgement from heaven, Beuno succeeded in restoring Winefride's life when he placed her head on her body, but Caradoc fell dead on the spot and was swallowed by the earth. As a sign of the miracle, a permanent faint red line traced Winefride's throat. She stayed eight years at Holywell before retiring to another nunnery, Gwytherin, further inland. Two saint's days are dedicated to her: the day of her miraculous resurrection and the day of her death. Wall paintings in the chapel included a now destroyed Life of St Winefred, and there are paint traces in the well chamber, including a painted star.

The well springs from the place where the severed head was said to have come to a rest and, thanks to its reputed healing properties, it is regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. St Winefride's Well was a place of pilgrimage as early as the twelfth century. In the fifteenth century, Margaret of Beaufort built a chapel next to the well, leading to a bathing pool for pilgrims. During the Reformation of the 1530s, Anglican reformers destroyed many Catholic shrines and relics across Great Britain, however, veneration at St Winefride's miraculously continued through the centuries despite state suppression and persecution. In the eighteenth century, the Catholic population in the Holywell district even began to rise.

By the dawn of modern tourism in the Romantic period, travellers to the chapel and holy well regarded the site as a Catholic curiosity in an otherwise devoutly Protestant Wales. Today, St Winefride's Well and Chapel are jointly under the care of Cadw and the Roman Catholic church and, together with the museum, are open daily.

Sources include:
AHRC-funded project 'Journey to the Past: Wales in historic travel writing from France and Germany'.
Richard Suggett, Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800, (RCAHMW 2021), pp. 29–30, 129.



application/pdfCMC - Cadw Monuments in Care CollectionDigital copy of Assessment Report on surviving decoration at St. Winefride's Well, Holywell. Produced for Cadw by Paine & Stewart.
application/pdfETW - European Travellers to Wales ProjectDescription of a visit to St. Winefrides Well by Arthur d'Arcis from 'Voyage au nord du pays de Galles' (c. 1866). Text available in Welsh, English, French and German. Produced through the European Travellers to Wales project.