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St Winefride's Chapel

A Scheduled Monument in Holywell (Treffynnon), Flintshire (Sir y Fflint)

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Coordinates

Latitude: 53.2771 / 53°16'37"N

Longitude: -3.2236 / 3°13'24"W

OS Eastings: 318509

OS Northings: 376268

OS Grid: SJ185762

Mapcode National: GBR 5ZXJ.XY

Mapcode Global: WH76K.GW6K

Entry Name: St Winefride's Chapel

Scheduled Date:

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 3436

Cadw Legacy ID: FL101

Schedule Class: Religious, Ritual and Funerary

Category: Chapel

Period: Medieval

County: Flintshire (Sir y Fflint)

Community: Holywell (Treffynnon)

Traditional County: Flintshire

Description

This monument comprises the remains of a medieval chapel and holy well built in the late 15th century. The holy spring of St Winifred, an important centre of medieval pilgrimage still venerated today, is said to have risen where St Beuno restored his niece St Winifred to life after her head had been severed by Caradoc, a rejected suitor.

The shrine was first mentioned as a place of pilgrimage in 1115, and from 1240 to the dissolution it was part of the possessions of Basingwerk Abbey. The present remarkable and architecturally unique building is set into the hillside. It was probably built for Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother, to replace an earlier structure, and is richly ornamented on the exterior with a frieze of animals, and the badges of Henry VII and Thomas Stanley (Margaret Beaufort’s third husband); the quality of the workmanship suggests that royal masons may have been employed.

The two storey structure that stands today is one of the most perfect examples of perpendicular architecture in Wales. The well-chamber is open on the northern side, while there is level access from the south into the chapel above. A copious spring of clear water rises in a central basin in the shape of a truncated eight-pointed star, with steps at the front for access. The water flows beneath the surrounding walkway into a more recent swimming pool. The basin is enclosed by a low wall from which columns rise to form part of an elaborately ornamented vault of unusually complex design, matching the form of the pool below.

Around ninety sculptured bosses at intersections of the vaulting ribs give a profusion of decorative devices including angels, the green man, the arms of the Stanley family, patterns incorporating foliage and strange beasts. In the centre, a pendant boss has six scenes from the life of St Winefride and Beuno. A corbel by the entrance portrays a pilgrim carrying another on his back, acting as a reminder of the importance of the well as a place of pilgrimage and healing. Graffiti attest to numerous visitors, including James II and Mary of Modena who came in 1686 to pray for a son; James (the Old Pretender) was born in 1688.

The chapel has a north aisle and an apsidal chancel. The same decorative motives are reproduced in an elaborate frieze around the exterior walls between the well and chapel and below the roof. The three bays of the aisle mirror the three arcades of the vault in the well-chamber below, although stairs linking the two floors are now blocked.

This monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance our knowledge of medieval religious practices. The scheduled area comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.

Source: Cadw

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