Pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well

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 Man carrying a disabled companion: corbel at the shrine

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, Flintshire. We set off early and were at the shrine as it opened. For half an hour or so we had the place to ourselves and, in the beautiful silence and peace one finds there, were able to pray for all sick and suffering people, especially those known to us and those who have asked our prayers. The worn stone, the bubbling spring, the heavy scent of flowers round about, the bright candles burning in the alcove, the crutches and ex votos of those who have found healing, these may remind the casual visitor of Lourdes, to which Holywell is often compared, but, for myself, I found the quiet charged with an intensity of prayer that can only come from centuries of being a holy place. To a Benedictine, it was somehow familiar, a homely place, in every sense of the word.

This corbel, showing a man carrying his disabled companion, expresses an important truth about praying for the sick. It is the privilege of those who are able to carry those who can no longer carry themselves; and it is the privilege of those who are carried to cherish and bless those who do the carrying. The sculptor has captured not only a moment of practical help but also a moment of great tenderness, as both carrier and carried are portrayed cheek to cheek, looking in the same direction. I think we can extend the meaning of that to cover many more situations. Christianity can never be an individualistic religion, concerned only with personal sanctification, as though we could become holy apart from everyone else. That hackneyed political phrase, ‘we are all in this together,’ takes on a new meaning when applied to the Christian vision of society. We stand united, looking in the same direction towards Christ, and we help one another along the road to salvation. Some may do the carrying, others may be carried, but we follow the same path and give glory to God by our journeying.

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14 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well”

  1. Wonderful blog and so apt as today we are carrying a friend through chemotherapy- we’ll share it with her to give her some much needed hope and inspiration.
    Thank you

  2. Thank you for the clarity of your insight on sharing Christian salvation. This must have been one of your most memorable days of devotion. Your piece transported me to the wonder of Holywell. God bless, peace be with you.

  3. Dear Sr Catherine. I know it is your calling and vocation to pray, and I do want to honour and thank the Lord for you for your faithfulness praying for healing for so many, when you yourself are struggling. I often tell people in hospital “now is the time to let others pray for you”.. said it this afternoon! Be assured of on-going prayers for you too.. and Quietnun… and Hairy Rev Brother of course! My prayer is rather more haphazzard than yours, and I really appreciate your daily reminders/call to pray for such a wide variety of folk. You help me to pray… #nuffsaid!

  4. I have been there too, as part of a ‘free afternoon’ given as a small respite during a wonderful (but taxing) course at St Deiniol’s (now called Gladstone’s Library) which is nearby. It really is a joy to be in places where we can feel close to God and also to generations of others who have sought and felt the same. We carry and are carried….thanks be….and how I wish I could ‘carry’ my beloved mum once more for just a moment to tell her again how much I love her. Places where time is revealed as only temporary are places of mercy indeed…and are surely reminders of Christ’s cross as the place where eternity touched into time to console, redeem and raise us.

    • If the Communion of Saints means what I think it does, the bond between you and your beloved Mum is even stronger and clearer than ever. She knows you love her, just as she goes on loving you; and one day that is all there will be, the love of God embracing us all.

  5. Have just returned from walking St Cuthbert’s Way and visiting the cave where the monks rested while carrying the body of St Cuthbert. Lindisfarne was wonderful. However my idea of it being a place if quiet contemplation was thwarted by the many visitors. I did manage some prayer time when joining evening prayer at The C of E service (even though Catholic I didn’t think God would mind).
    I did wonder if the ruling at the Synod of Whitby had decided to favour the Celtic monks vision of Christianity rather than Rome’s whether we would have followed a better path. One which I believe Pope Francis is trying to steer us towards.
    PS My knowledge of this a very vague and sketchy. So cannot pretend I ‘know’ what I’m talking about.

    • I have to say that, in my experience, it isn’t the exterior noise or busy-ness that stops us praying. It’s lovely when there is quiet, of course, but sometimes we can indulge in the quietness for the sake of ourselves rather than God; so be encouraged. The struggle you had shows it was real. You are not alone in having vague ideas about Celtic monasticism — many of us do. It was much more austere than most people nowadays could cope with. Personally, I have never felt any attraction to it, especially not to the harshness of the Irish Penitentiaries or the ascetical practices of St David, for example. But then, what else would you expect from a lazy Benedictine? 😉

  6. I have been lucky enough to visit the well and agree it has a particular atmosphere and certainly helps facilitate prayer while you are there and (for mr) whenever I recall my time there. The whole area of Christian pligrimage and special sites is a fascinating one as each can be seen a signpost and reminder that we are all on a journey together.I know many people who can not even discuss prayer during their illness (so distressed) but have asked for an offering to be made at such a place or clung to a souvenir from a shrine. Possibly partly superstition (not so good) but hopefully a glimmer of faith, hope or trust in God. Sometimes that is the best we can manage.

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