Holy wells and accidental pilgrims

Shrine with external bathing pool

Shrine with external bathing pool

Yesterday I visited St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, North Wales, not as a pilgrim but a respectful visitor. Sacred sites and buildings have always been of great interest to me, the greatest being Nature herself. Having grown up in cities nearly all my life the splendour and energising presence of the natural world proves to revivify the spirit. Mine is not a unique experience, history has been witness to scores of ordinary people seeking meaning and contemplation in Nature. No matter how high our towers of steel and concrete grow they will never replace their natural counterparts. On a smaller scale gardening has been used as a tool for rehabilitation of both mind and body, water being an especially potent healer.

The sacred spring

The sacred spring

Water has a dual aspect, an important symbol of the source and destroyer of life. Springs in particular symbolise spiritual fertility, life and purity. They have been and still are revered as the origin of life giving waters in numerous cultures. What of this holy well in my part of the world? Many tales are recounted of the 7th century St Winefride (Gwenfrewi in Welsh) being beheaded by one of her spurned suitor’s, Prince Caradoc and a spring erupting from the place of her death. The spring has been a focus of pilgrimage (Christian or otherwise) for over 1000 years, with the faithful coming from all over the world seeking healing. Info alert – the shrine itself is housed in a late Perpendicular Gothic, Grade 1 Listed building and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The spring is contained within a central basin in the shape of a truncated eight pointed star.

The central basin - truncated 8 pointed star containging the sacred spring

The central basin – truncated 8 pointed star containing the sacred spring

There is a sense of peace within the shrine, which might be the result of the hopes and prayers of the faithful over a long period of time, in cooperation with the genius loci (Latin – “spirit of the place”) of this location of course. At this juncture I throw in a morsel of information regarding Dr Masaru Emoto’s books on water, The Secret Life of Water, The True Power of Water, The Healing Power of Water to name but three. His work is considered controversial by some but worth investigating to provoke questions and engage in debate. These are only my personal beliefs you understand, you are entitled to your own opinions dear reader. Faith, and I am using this term in its widest sense, can create wondrous results. Thought manifesting into form in the Universe. Sound familiar? Think of all the wonderful possibilities. Forgive me for my random thoughts, there is a pattern in there somewhere. I am just exploring a few ideas.

Pilgrimages to sacred wells and springs, regardless of one’s religious or spiritual tradition, have been a tremendous driving force in human behaviour. They offer the possibility of Hope. As I walked round the shrine a thought struck me, how deeply soothing the atmosphere was. The silence was offering a balm to the spirit and the presence of the spring? I gazed down at, watching its waters being replenished from the earth. There was a numinous presence in that place. Positioned at various points around the building were signs of the faithful, votive candles, flowers, and names scratched on the stone walls of the little chapel adjacent to the main shrine. Even though I was not an adherent of this particular spiritual tradition it did not stop me from leaving a votive candle and a small offering thrown into the spring. A prayer for healing, for whoever needed it.

Photographs – author’s own.


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