“A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place to implore God for special favours”(The Pilgrims Manual 1927.)
St Winefride`s Well, Holywell, is not only the most famous healing Well in Britain, it is the only one to survive the Reformation as a place of public pilgrimage throughout penal times.
For 1300 years the sick in mind and body have journeyed to the Well. Throughout this period the sick formed only a small portion of the total number of pilgrims. All of them stayed in and around the town of Holywell, in the numerous Inns which for Centuries formed the basis of the town`s prosperity. Rich pilgrims perhaps stayed at Basingwerk Abbey, as guests of the Abbot. The sick were not forgotten: in the Fourteenth Century, the Parish Priest planned to open a hospice (hospital) for sick pilgrims, which at least shows that the need for special care for the sick was needed at that period. Any special care for the sick would have ceased with the dissolution of Basingwerk in 1537.
In 1638 the Jesuit Fathers tried. They failed, but established a residence at “The Star Inn” (now the Presbytery.) Secular priests occupied “The Cross Keys” (the former St Winefride`s Convent, now the church car park). Both Inns served the needs of pilgrims. Both were raided as late as 1718. The Cross Keys was sold; but with the repeal of the penal laws, the opening of the first public Chapel in Holywell since the Reformation in 1808, the building of the present St Winefride`s Church in 1833 (extended 1909), enthusiasm returned. Once more pilgrims flocked to Holywell in ever increasing numbers, again, a hospice became necessary.
After a public novena in March 1869 Fr Joseph Mann S.J. was offered the house built on the site of the Cross Keys together with several small cottages and a malt kiln. A Mrs Parry gave £450 of the £550 purchase price. The House became the former St Winefride`s Convent.
The malt kiln became the Hospice, which was opened and blessed by Bishop Brown, Shrewsbury, on June 22, 1870. From 1870 to 1892 full board for a week cost 3/6 per patient. In 1892 the charge was raised to 1/- per day. It was still only 2/- per day in 1939. In 1892, 284 pilgrims were admitted to the Hospice, 52 men and 232 women. Many were “pitifully sick”.
By 1895, 1,710 pilgrims had stayed in the Hospice of whom more than 500 were sick.
From 1898 until the outbreak of the Second World War, numbers were less but still considerable. The Hospice was managed, at that time, by a Sister Patrick who celebrated her Jubilee in Religion and 40 years at the Hospice in 1938.
There was still poverty in those days and the Hospice welcomed the poor.
The Hospice was run by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle of Selly Park, Birmingham, for 132 years. By the latter years of the 20th Century the need for accommodation specifically for the sick poor was no longer a pressing need within the developing pilgrimage to St Winefride`s Well and the Hospice was developed as a Catholic Guest House. Latterly it became known as St Winefride’s Pilgrims Rest, managed by Sister Margaret Reddy, continuing to provide accommodation for pilgrims and visitors, playing an important part in the life of the local community.
When in 2002 the Sisters of Charity were unable to continue to run the premises it was closed on 3rd May that year.
On 10 June 2003 the Rt Rev Bishop Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham, received a proposal from Madre Tekla Famigliette, Abbess General, Ordinis Sanctissimi Salvatoris (The Order of Our Holy Saviour and St Bridget, founded in 1370, as a Contemplative Order, by St Bridget of Sweden and generally known as The Bridgettine Sisters), to establish a new foundation at Holywell, centred on the former St Winefride’s Pilgrims Rest and the adjoining Ave Maria Hall (in ruins.) The Ave Maria Hall would be restored and converted as a self contained cloister (convent) for the community of Sisters. The adjoining St Winefride’s Pilgrims Rest (the old Hospice) would be modernised to continue improved Guest House accommodation for pilgrims and visitors, in which the Sisters would provide the tradtion of service, care and courtesey first established in 1870.
Sisters and visitors on the car park in front of the renovated St Winefride`s Guest House
This proposal was accepted. The Bridgettine Sisters, with 48 foundations worldwide (two in England) with the help of the Holywell Townscape Heritage Initiative partners; the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh Development Agency (Now the Welsh Assembley Goverment), Cadw, the Wales Tourist Board, Flintshire County Council, the Nazareth Trust and the Diocese of Wrexham, awarded the contract for reconstruction to W D Stant Ltd of Wrexham, with the fitting out contract to Elizabeth Rose Interior Design of Mold.
Architects: FRANCIS ROBERTS ARCHITECTS, PRESTON.
The remodelled St Winefride`s Guest House, completed in May 2008, is again open all year round to pilgrims and visitors for bookings.
The Bridgettine Sisters
The Order of the Most Holy Savoiur of Saint Bridget was founded in 1370 as a Contemplative Order by St Bridget of Sweden, is generally known as The Bridgettine Sisters.
The Sisters have a tradition of liturgical prayer and daily adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Order was refounded in 1911 by Blessed Elizabeth Hesselblad, also Swedish, as a Monastic Apostolic Order in which their central work is “Hospitality” which is part of their Apostolic Activity having a particular mission of Ecumenism.