Posted by: anna | November 16, 2009

St Winifred

icon image from Aidan Hart icons

Today we commemorate St Winifred, a 7th century Welsh saint. Here is Miss Dunbar’s entry:

St. Winifred, Nov. 3, June 22, V. + c. 660 (WENEFREDA, WENEFRIDE, WINFRIDA, WINNIFRED, VENEFREDE, GUENFREWT, GUENFRIDA, GlJENWERA, GlJINEFROIE, BREWO), patron of Powisland and of St. Beuno in Wales. Represented carrying her head in her hand. She was daughter of Thevith, a great and rich man in North Wales. She was instructed by St. Beuno or Benno, who is supposed to be her uncle ; he gave her the religious veil, with the approval of her father and mother. One day her parents and the servants were in church, Beuno was officiating, and Winifred was left alone in the house. She was attacked by Caradoc, son of King Alan. [Miss Dunbar omits to mention the intervening interchange, which follows the usual pattern: Lustful Pagan Prince Desires Committed Christian Virgin; CCV politely but firmly refuses and reiterates her intention to live a chaste religious life. LPP becomes Enraged and Gives Chase… we rejoin Miss Dunbar’s less sensational account…] She fled towards the church. He overtook her and cut off her head [Winifred does not undergo the usual varied trials by torture]. Where it fell there sprang up a well of clear water.

Beuno informed the assembled Christians that Winifred had vowed to lead a virtuous and celibate life and had died a martyr to her virginity and Christianity. Then he took up her head from the ground and set it in its place, at the same time commanding the congregation to pray that she might be restored to life and fulfil her vow. When they arose from praying, Winifred arose with them ; for the rest of her life she had a red mark round her throat where it had been cut. Meantime, Caradoc stood with his sword in his hand, unable either to stir from the spot or to repent, and when Beuno reproached him for his crime, he fell down dead and was whisked away by devils.

By Beuno’s advice Winifred remained seven years at that church, gathering around her, virgins of honest and holy conversation and instructing them in the Christian religion. When Beuno went to Ireland, she and her maidens every year worked him a chasuble or some pretty piece of needle work ; they put it into the well and the stream carried it safely to him. After seven years she went to the double monastery of Witheryachus [Gwytherin], in the vale of Cluid [Clwyd]. St. Elerius presented her to his mother St Theonia, to whom Winifred eventually succeeded as abbess.

It has been said that her name was Brewo and that the name of Winifred was given her after her death and resurrection. St. Winifred s well is to be seen in the old town of Holywell. It is fed by a stream of singular brightness. The temperature of the water never changes, summer or winter; it is so clear that the pebbles at the bottom are distinctly seen to be stained as though with blood. The copious supply is never affected by the longest drought or the heaviest rains, and miraculous cures continue to occur there. It is lined with fragrant moss, the Jungermannia asplenoides. The beautiful chapel which stands over it is said to have been built by the Countess of Eichmond, mother of Henry VIII., but it may be earlier.

R.M. AA.SS. Britannia Sancta. Golden Legend. Her Life, says Butler, was written by Robert, prior of Shrewsbury, two years after the translation of her relics to his monastery in 1138. John of Tinmouth s Life of St. Winifred is an abstract from that by Prior Robert of Shrewsbury.


  • Wikipedia
  • more icons of St Winifred, mostly by the hand of Aidan Hart, and a picture of the holy well. Also a translation of an ancient Sarum Rite sequence for Winifred’s feast.
  • three of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mystery novels refer to the Shrewsbury monks’ devotion to St Winifred: A Morbid Taste for Bones, The Pilgrim of Hate and The Holy Thief.
  • text of commemoration at orthodoxengland

Troparion, tone VIII

Desiring union with the eternal Bridegroom alone, O pious Winifred, thou didst spurn the advances of the arrogant prince, who, thwarted in his vile lust, struck off thy holy head with his sword. But thy pure body was by a miracle of God restored to life at the prayers of the holy Beuno.

Wherefore, thou didst consecrate thyself wholly to the service of thy Lord; and having now joined the choirs of virgins and martyrs on high, thou prayest unceasingly that He grant grace and salvation to those who honor thy holy memory with love.

Holy St Winifred, pray to God for us.


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