Atlas Obscura

The Headless History of Winifred’s Well

The source of Winifred’s Well.

Nabokov/CC BY-SA 3.0

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world’s hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook and Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter.

One of the many holy wells scattered across Europe, Winifred’s Well (or St. Winifride’s Well) has been visited by the faithful for over a thousand years after it was created by a martyr’s lopped off head.

As the story goes, Winifred, daughter of a wealthy Wales citizen and sister of fellow Saint Beuno, was being romantically pursued by a man named Caradog. Winifred was not interested in the man’s advances, and when she finally refused to lay with him, Caradog lopped the young woman’s head off. Where her head hit the ground, a natural spring instantly sprung. Poor Winifred was thankfully resurrected thanks to the saintly prayers of her brother, but the spring remained. Pilgrims who visited the miraculous spring claimed that the waters healed any number of ailments, and a proper structure was built around the site sometime in the 12th century.

The legend aside, it is known that Winifred was a real personage and the current structure built over the spring that bears her name seems to have replaced an earlier structure. The current medieval chapel was built in the 16th century and has seen such famous faithful grace its arches as Kings Richard I and Henry V. With pilgrims visiting the well for its healing waters for over a thousand years that we can confirm, a tradition that has been unbroken during its existence, the well also claims to be the oldest active pilgrimage site in all of Britain.

While the aging medieval chapel still covers the bubbling well waters, the site has added a shallow wading pool in the courtyard that is filled directly from the well. Visitors can actually bathe in the holy waters and towel off in the innocuous cabanas. Despite a violent origin, Winifred’s Well is peaceful site that allows for relaxation that might be more healing than the magic waters.

Contributed by Atlas user thescousewife

If you liked this, you’ll probably enjoy Atlas Obscura’s new book, which collects more than 700 of the world’s strangest and most amazing places: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.