Icon (Close Menu)

Anglicans, Roman Catholics to Share Shrine in Peace

Adapted from the Diocese of St. Asaph

Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops in northeast Wales have signed an agreement that their flocks will work together at the St. Winefride Well Shrine in Holywell, which is said to be the British site with the longest continuous history of pilgrimage and healing.

Statement of Intent

The Bishops of Wrexham and St. Asaph recognize 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 1,400 years, and St James’ Church to function as the historic Anglican center for worship for the Parish of Holywell.

Respectful of this inheritance, the Bishops of Wrexham and St. Asaph pledge to work cooperatively 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. The site of the ancient Shrine to St. Winefride comprises the holy well and associated buildings and St James’ Church, the historic center of Anglican worship in Holywell. The shrine has been a continuous place of Roman Catholic devotion for 1,400 years.

The Rt. Rev. Peter Brignall of Wrexham and the Rt. Rev. Gregory Cameron of St. Asaph have pledged to work cooperatively in developing 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 bishops signed a statement of intent during a service in the Beaufort Chapel of St. James’ Church on July 12.

St. Winefride is believed to have been a seventh- century 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, St. Beuno, and lived a life of devotion in Gwytherin near Denbigh.

The spring feeds a large star-shaped basin, which is housed in an elaborate late Gothic vaulted crypt beside the church. Protestants and Catholics — including King James II — sought healing at the shrine, often using a ritual involving a recitation of the rosary. A community of Jesuits was resident in Holywell to minister to pilgrims from the 17th century, and the shrine experienced a major renewal in the late 19th century.

The crypt was filled with crutches as a testimony to miracles received at this “Lourdes of Britain” until the 1960s. People still come to bathe in the waters from the well.

“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,” Bishop Cameron said during the service. “We have huge hopes for the development of the shrine site, with the local priest, Father Dominic, using St. James’ as a center 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.”

Bishop Brignall added: “The history and tradition of St. Winefride and Holywell provide an opportunity for the church in the 21st century as a place of witness and evangelization. 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 center 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 center 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. The people of Holywell will continue 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.


Top headlines. Every Friday.



Most Recent

Renewed Freedom in Christ

The Rev. Matt Erickson reviews Traveling Light: Galatians and the Free Life in Christ.

Vermont Bishop Has Faced Dissension and Racial Conflict

Shannon MacVean-Brown was consecrated just a few months before the pandemic.

People & Places, May 29

Appointments, ordinations, and retirements across the Episcopal Church

Blessings for Pets — and Police

The blessings were an extension of the church’s participating in Faith & Blue, a national effort to “build bridges and break biases” between police and the communities they serve.