Some sixty parishioners from St Benedict's, St Oswald's and St Mary's in Warrington enjoyed a prayerful visit to St Winefride's Shrine at Holywell, North Wales yesterday, led by parish priest Fr Dave Heywood. A Flickr album can be viewed here.
St Winefride, defending her vowed virginity, was attacked by Caradog, furious with lust, who drawing his sword cut off her head. At the place where the saint's head hit the ground, a spring of water emerged, indeed a raging torrent. And as the water still runs today so there has also been a continuous stream of pilgrims to the site ever since. This makes Holywell the place with the longest uninterrupted history as a pilgrimage destination in Great Britain, that is some 1,300 years.
And what is the proportionate cause for this wonderful effect? It is that after her head was cut clean off, St Winefride was resurrected thanks to the prayers of her uncle, St Bueno, and lived for another 15 years before dying again and entering Heaven. The visitors' centre explains the story well. Moreover it exhibits a crowd of crutches left behind ex voto by those healed in subsequent centuries by the well's waters.
The modern mind may struggle to believe in resurrection. But for Christians, it is the very core of our Faith. By the well, Fr Mawdsley gave a spiritual reflection on this theme, saying that in believing Jesus rose again from the tomb, and that He raised others from the dead, and gave to His Apostles the power to raise the dead, and since others have been raised from the dead since the Apostolic age, then we have a multitude of reasons to believe in the desire and power of God to bring us back to spiritual life from death when we have gravely sinned. God's plan for us is Life.
To be brought back to life by God, for example the life of grace through Confession, we need to be open to His Mercy. And Holywell has been graced by Pope Francis to have a Door of Mercy for this Jubilee Year.
An important daily event at the shrine is recitation of the Litany of St Winefride and the veneration of her relics. This takes place on Sundays at 14:30 and from Monday to Saturday at 12noon. The Vocationist Fathers run the parish church and have an active ministry at the Shrine.
The museum at the site, with commentaries from well-informed and friendly volunteers, has an exhibit of bones, including some which are thought to belong to a martyr priest. Edinburgh University was involved in an investigation of the bones, including dating them, which showed them to have been stretched as on a torturous rack in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Seminarian Gwilym gave a spiritual talk on the return bus journey. He said that martyrs give the ultimate testimony to Jesus Christ, and often to a particular aspect of Christ's infinitely rich Life. For example, St Winefride is renowned for holy purity, having died rather than lose hers. To follow her in purity, the Church teaches us three practical measures: to pray, to avoid the near occasion of sin, and to mortify oneself.
More photos of our day in Wales appear below. These include Holy Mass on Our Lady's Saturday at the parish Church of St Winefride, where we were well looked after by the parish priest, Fr Roberto Ciardo, SDV (Vocationist Father).