Wales: Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops to work co-operatively for Flintshire holy well site

13 July 2023 • Persistent link:

An historic agreement to recognise and celebrate the significance of the holy well and Shrine to Saint Winefride in Holywell has been signed by the local Roman Catholic and Anglican Bishops.

The Bishop of Wrexham and the Bishop of St Asaph have pledged to work co-operatively towards the development of the whole site in Holywell as an integrated place of worship, pilgrimage and tourism, while maintaining the distinctive tradition of worship associated with the Shrine. The two bishops, Rt Revd Peter Brignall and Rt Revd Gregory Cameron signed a statement of intent (in full below) during a service in the Beaufort Chapel of St James’ Church yesterday (Wednesday 12 July).

The site of the ancient Shrine to St Winefride comprises the holy well and associated buildings and St James’ Church, the historic centre of Anglican worship in Holywell. The Shrine has been a continuous place of Roman Catholic devotion for 1400 years.

St Winefride is believed to have been a virgin martyr, beheaded by Caradoc, a local prince, after she spurned his advances. A spring rose from the ground at the spot where her head fell, and she was later restored to life by her uncle, Saint Beuno, going on to live a life of devotion in Gwytherin near Denbigh. Today, people still come to bathe in the waters from the well, and plans are in place to develop a well-being centre for the local community in St James’ Church.

The Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron said during the service: “The site St Winefride’s Well and associated buildings is a world-class place of pilgrimage, sacred to Christians across all traditions down through history. We have huge hopes for the development of the Shrine site, with the local priest, Father Dominic using St James’ as a centre for healing and community.

“Today’s signing of the statement of intent is really making public what we already do together; we’re cooperating to establish this special place to welcome all Christians and people of all faiths, sharing as much as we can while maintaining our distinctive traditions.”

The Bishop of Wrexham, the Rt Revd Peter Brignall added: “The history and tradition of Saint Winefride and Holywell provide an opportunity for the church in the 21st century as a place of witness and evangelisation. So many facets of Winefride’s story will appeal to the world today. In some ways, she can be seen as a patron or example for women who experience domestic violence or abuse. There will be people who come for the heritage, architecture, and history, but also those who come for healing and an encounter with the divine physician through Winefride and her traditions.

“St Winefride’s Well is also a reminder that faith is the centre of ordinary life. The pre-Victorian engravings on the walls tell a story of people washing their clothes in the holy well. If we can put faith at the centre of life today, that is all well and good. I am delighted to sign this statement of intent at this time.”

The Anglican Church of St James’ ceased to be the town’s main place of Anglican worship in 2007 when St Peter’s Church was built on Rose Hill. Almost £500,000 has been raised to launch Well-being @ St James’, which will see the church transformed into a place for healing and community. This will include space for a parish nurse and various support groups, as well as a cinema, coffee shop and a dedicated space for prayer. In addition, the people of Holywell will continue to be able to use the church as a warm and comfortable setting to celebrate key life events. Work on St James’ is due to begin in October.

The Bishop of Wrexham, the Rt Revd Peter Brignall, looks after Roman Catholic communities across north Wales stretching from areas surrounding Caernarfon, Colwyn Bay, Rhyl, Dolgellau, and Flint, to Wrexham. The Church in Wales Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron looks after Anglican communities across north-east Wales from Llandudno in the west to the Wales/England border and down to Newtown in the south.

Statement of Intent

The Bishops of Wrexham and St Asaph recognise and celebrate the historic and religious significance of the ancient Shrine to St Winefride, comprising of the well, and associated buildings. They also acknowledge the complex history of the site, which has resulted in different bodies having ownership of various parts of the shrine, while celebrating the cooperation between Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians, which has enabled the Shrine to exist as a continuous place of Roman Catholic devotion for 1400 years, and St James’ Church to function as the historic Anglican centre for worship for the Parish of Holywell.

Respectful of this inheritance, the Bishops of Wrexham and St Asaph pledge to work co-operatively towards the development of the whole site as an integrated place of worship, pilgrimage and tourism of World Heritage class, respecting the continuous patterns of worship and spirituality at the site and the rights of different stakeholders, but working as far as possible with openness, generosity and hospitality to secure a future for the site as a place of historic cultural and religious significance which is open to all members of the Christian oikumene, and indeed, all people of goodwill from all faiths or none.