Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Shrine Series Post #7: St. Winifrede's Well, Holywell

From Gerard Manley Hopkins' unfinished play St. Winefred's Well:

O now while skies are blue, now while seas are salt,
While rushy rains shall fall or brooks shall fleet from fountains,
While sick men shall cast sighs, of sweet health all despairing,
While blind men’s eyes shall thirst after daylight, draughts of daylight,
Or deaf ears shall desire that lipmusic that ’s lost upon them,
While cripples are, while lepers, dancers in dismal limb-dance,
Fallers in dreadful frothpits, waterfearers wild,
Stone, palsy, cancer, cough, lung wasting, womb not bearing,
Rupture, running sores, what more? in brief; in burden,
As long as men are mortal and God merciful,
So long to this sweet spot, this leafy lean-over,
This Dry Dene, now no longer dry nor dumb, but moist and musical
With the uproll and the downcarol of day and night delivering
Water, which keeps thy name, (for not in róck wrítten,
But in pale water, frail water, wild rash and reeling water,
That will not wear a print, that will not stain a pen,
Thy venerable record, virgin, is recorded).
Here to this holy well shall pilgrimages be,
And not from purple Wales only nor from elmy England,
But from beyond seas, Erin, France and Flanders, everywhere,
Pilgrims, still pilgrims, móre pílgrims, still more poor pilgrims.
. . . . . . . .
What sights shall be when some that swung, wretches, on crutches
Their crutches shall cast from them, on heels of air departing,
Or they go rich as roseleaves hence that loathsome cáme hither!
Not now to náme even
Those dearer, more divine boons whose haven the heart is.
. . . . . . . .
As sure as what is most sure, sure as that spring primroses
Shall new-dapple next year, sure as to-morrow morning,
Amongst come-back-again things, thíngs with a revival, things with a recovery,
Thy name…

St. Winifrede's Well was a medieval Lourdes in England. According to this site:

The holy spring of St Winifred, an important center of medieval pilgrimage still venerated today, is said to have risen where St Beuno restored his niece St Winifred to life after her head had been severed by Cardoc, a rejected suitor. St Beuno is a well-attested 7th-century figure, responsible for bringing Celtic monasticism to much of north Wales.

The shrine was first mentioned as a place of pilgrimage in 1115, and from 1240 to the dissolution it was part of the possessions of Basingwerk Abbey. Henry V made the pilgrimage in 1415 before his victory at Agincourt, as did Edward IV before Towton Moor in 1461. The future Henry VII, too, is thought to have made a secret visit before winning his crown at Bosworth in 1485.

The present remarkable and architecturally unique building, set into a hillside, dates from the late 15th century. It was probably built for Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, to replace an earlier structure, and is richly ornamented on the exterior with a frieze of animals, and the badges of Henry VII and Thomas Stanley (Margaret Beaufort's third husband); the quality of the workmanship suggests that royal masons may have been employed.

The building consists of two floors. The well-chamber is open on the downhill (northern) side, while there is level access from the south into the chapel above. A copious spring of clear water rises in a central basin in the shape of a truncated eight-pointed star, with steps in the front for access by the sick. The water flows away beneath the surrounding walkway into a more recent swimming pool. The basin is enclosed by a low wall from which columns rise to form part of an elaborately ornamented vault of unusually complex design, matching the form of the pool below.

The chapel has a north aisle and an apsidal chancel. The three bays of the aisle mirror the three arcades of the vault in the well-chamber below, although stairs linking the two floors are now blocked.

More about Basingwerk Abbey here.

Even though Henry VIII closed down the shrine and suppressed the abbey, St. Winifrede's remained a site of pilgrmage and of Catholic hope. The Gunpowder Plot conspirators visited the shrine. James II and his queen, Mary Beatrice of Modena visited the shrine in hopes of conceiving a son and heir--and their hopes were fulfilled. It is an active Catholic shrine and place of pilgrimage today in Wales and very much supported by the local tourism industry, by the looks of this website.

Note the family connection between Holywell and the Tudors--yet Henry destroyed it!

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