AINT Winifred was born in Tegeingl, in Northeastern Wales, and her Feast Day is November 3rd. She was born into great wealth as the daughter of the Welsh nobleman Tyfid ap Eiludd during the period when Christianity was only beginning to have its effect in the British Isles.
Winifred appears to have been exposed to Catholic Christianity through her mother, Wenlo. Wenlo’s brother Bono is also venerated as a Saint by the church for his work as a founding abbot of the abbey of Caernarfon. During Winifred’s life, women had no say in their marriage partner, and marital unions were typically arranged by parents in order to secure political alliances.
Winifred’s father arranged for Winifred to marry a neighboring nobleman named Caradoc. But St. Winifred had determined to become a nun devoted in a unique way to God. Winifred’s rejection enraged Caradoc, so that – without any evidence of interference from Winifred’s father – Caradoc decapitated the virgin Winifred with his sword.
Winifred’s head rolled down the hill where she was martyred, and where it came to rest, a spring gushed forth. Her grieved uncle St. Bono was present to witness this heinous act, and recovered St. Winifred’s head to preserve it as a relic.
But – mirabile dictu – when St. Bono rejoined St. Winifred’s head to her body, she was restored to life! Meanwhile Caradoc stood looking on, insolently leaning upon his sword.
Then and there, St. Bono called down the judgment of heaven upon Caradoc for his wickedness, and lo, like the insolent Korah and his whole house in the Bible (Numbers 26:10) the ground opened beneath him and swallowed up Caradoc as the wicked wretch merited. Then Bono returned to his abbey.
But before he left, St. Bono sat himself upon a stone by the newly formed spring – that came to be known as the Holy Well – which now stands in the outer well pool, and there promised in the name of God that “Whosoever on this spot should thrice ask for a benefit from God in the name of St. Winifred will obtain the grace he asks if it be for the good of his soul.”
St. Winifred indeed did become a nun and lived at Holy Well for eight years. Afterward she received an inspiration to leave and became the founding abbess of another abbey at Gwytherin in Denbighshire.
Upon her (second and final) death, St. Winifred’s relics were transferred to Shrewsbury and formed the centre of a shrine there. King Henry VIII had it destroyed in 1540 as part of the Protestant Reformation in England.
But even the insolent King Henry VIII did not dare to interfere with the Holy Well, making it the only place of continuous pilgrimage in all England even through the Protestant Reformation. It stands to this very day in Flintshire, Wales.
In Catholic iconography, St. Winifred is depicted wearing the crown of her martyrdom, and holding the sword denoting her manner of execution and the palm frond, symbolic of Christ’s victory over death demonstrated by her unique martyrdom.
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Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.
John is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster holds a Doctorate in Medicine from Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.