Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lourdes of England

Another classic from a previous post!

No, not Lloyds of London or Lords of England, but in fact the Lourdes of England. The town of Holywell is named because there is a holy well there. We visited on our way home from Conwy.

The only mistake we made was going to a Catholic church/pilgrimage site on a Sunday morning. Lots of people were there praying the Rosary in some eastern European language that I couldn't quite identify. Or maybe it was Welsh. At any rate, we could not get in to see the church or the pool, but the grounds were very pretty and the visitor center was very informative. The cafe looked like it had good food, but we didn't eat there.

We couldn't push our way through the crowd, alas!

Why is the well holy? The legend goes that St. Winefride was the daughter of a local prince (Thevit was his name) and niece of St. Beuno (a famous preacher and holy man of the seventh century). She was both physically attractive and highly intelligent. She intended to become a nun. A nearby prince, Caradoc, sought her hand in marriage. He found her at home alone and attempted to persuade her to accept his suit. She resisted; he insisted. Fearing for her safety, she fled to the church where her uncle was saying Mass. Caradoc chased her and sliced her head off just before she could reach the church. Where her head fell a spring suddenly appeared. Beuno came out and put her head back on her body. After some prayers, she was restored to life with only a thin white line around her neck. Caradoc fell dead on the spot. In some versions of the story, he was swallowed up by the earth. Winefride went on to become a nun and later abbess at Gwytherin. She led a holy and exemplary life, dying in 660.

Visitor center display of Sts. Beuno and Winefride

Certainly the veracity of the story might be disputed, but it is a great story, and who doesn't love a zombie saint? A worthwhile explanation of the mixture of fact and legend in this case can be found here. But I digress...

Many pilgrims started coming to St. Winefride's Well, persisting even through the persecutions following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in England. Some miracles are attested to in the histories (one likeness to Lourdes) and the popularity of the site has never stopped (another similarity to Lourdes). Even Henry V made a pilgrimage here in 1416 in thanksgiving for the victory at Agincourt the year before.

Silent witness to miracles past

We enjoyed our visit in spite of the crowds who prevented us from getting inside the church and seeing the well. Hopefully we can come back when it isn't a Sunday with a large crowd.

J and L reenact Caradoc & Winefride's dramatic moment
Also, Gerard Manley Hopkins, great Catholic poet of the 1800's, has an unfinished play about St. Winefride. Here's an excerpt (see the whole thing here):

After Winefred’s raising from the dead and the breaking out of the fountain.

BEUNO. 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…

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