Here to this holy well shall pilgrimages be,
And not from purple Wales only nor from elmy England,
But from beyond seas, Erin, France and Flanders everywhere,
Pilgrims, still pilgrims, more pilgrims, still more poor pilgrims…
Gerard Manley Hopkins
from ‘St Winefride’s Well.’
We were three pilgrims coming to the ‘Lourdes of Wales’ from different places, Cathy an Episcopal priest from St James, Hackettstown, New Jersey, (see her blog on the visit too), Colleen a deacon from Kearney, Nebraska and me from Manchester. There were very few at the shrine – St Winefride was having a quiet afternoon. We explored, prayed and then, standing in front of Winefride’s statue we were guided in prayer by (a very young) Indian priest as we venerated the relic of St Winefride, carefully brought in a special suitcase.
Names carved in the stone, rosaries hanging on railings, icy cold spring water, relics, souvenirs, candles dripping wax, all reminded us of the physicality of christian spirituality. Pilgrimages are physical as well as spiritual experiences. We were here to do something, to touch, to see, to feel and to pray.
We venerated the relic, but were not able to stay for the ‘Rite of bathing led by a Priest’ held each week following 5pm Mass. (What happens at that rite – do the priests have specially designed bathing costumes?) Later we noticed the priest walking in the grounds swinging the relic case in one hand as he took a mobile phone call in the other. A curious sight.
Friendly ladies welcomed us into the Custodian’s house, now a museum, and here the history of the chain of pilgrims through the years was chartered. From the 15th century Lady Margaret Beaufort to the unnamed homeless, from the curious Baron Corvo to the 500 Polish pilgrims of this morning, all have felt drawn and welcomed by the extraordinary story and life of St Winefride. Given her story it was appropriate to pray for women victims of male violence and abuse.
Fair Flower of Ancient Wales, pray for us
Chosen vessel of grace, pray for us,
Hope of distressed pilgrims, pray for us