Bishop’s reflection on St Winefride ahead of shrine’s Day of Prayer for victims of abuse

In an interview with The Catholic Network, Bishop Peter Brignall of Wrexham has spoken about the story of St Winefride and its relevance to the modern problems of abuse.

Talking to Joseph Kelly at St Winefride’s Shrine and Well at Holywell in North Wales, Bishop Peter said that: “there has been pilgrimage to the shrine and to the well here in an unbroken tradition through the years of Reformation and division within the life of the Church.

“But now Winefride is in many ways uniting the Church again and serving as a point of focus of healing.”

St Winefride was a Celtic saint of the Seventh Century who became universally venerated during the Middle Ages and beyond. She came from a devout family and was minded to pursue a religious vocation when she came to the attention of a local prince, who tried to seduce her. She managed to escape his grasp and fled towards the nearby church where her uncle St Beuno was the local priest.

But before she could find sanctuary the prince struck out with his sword. Legend has it that he cut off her head and where her head fell a spring of water, sprang up. Seeing the tragedy, Beuno restored her to life, put her head back on her shoulders and resuscitated her.

Since then St Winefride’s Shrine and Well has become a renowned place of pilgrimage, with numerous miraculous cures claimed by pilgrims who have come to bathe in its waters.

And it’s a story that Bishop Peter believes has come down the centuries to give St Winefride a new relevance to modern times.

“We tend to think of healing more in terms of curing these days and that is part of it, but we are also in an age when we know of significant social ills, psychological ills,” said Bishop Peter.

“I saw that the story of St Winifrede had a relevance to today – she was a victim of sexual harassment, of sexual abuse, of sexual violence, her suitor trying to force himself upon her, and that as a consequence it puts the Winifred story very much into the 21st century.”

In 2016 Pope Francis asked the bishops of the world to initiate a regular annual day of prayer for the victims of sexual abuse and so on the Tuesday of the fifth week of Eastertide, which is the day in England and Wales for the victims of sexual abuse, there is a specific invitation to all to pray, either because they are victims or they know of victims, or even perhaps they have been perpetrators of such abuse.

“Last year at the pilgrimage day for the diocese and for Wales I inaugurated St Winefride’s Shrine as a place of healing and prayer of peace, of hope for those victims of sexual harassment and abuse,” said Bishop Peter.

This year’s Day of Prayer for Victims of Abuse will take place at St Winefride’s Shrine, Holywell, next Tuesday, 30th April, and all are very welcome to attend.

“All who come will be anonymous,” said Bishop Peter, “but there will be, during the course of that day at 12 noon and at three o’clock in the afternoon, a short service of prayer for the victims, for health, for a restoration of hope, and of an opportunity for those who wish to speak with a priest or speak with somebody about their own sorrows, their own situation.”

Bishop Peter has also produced a special Prayer Card and Prayer Leaflet containing prayers to support those who have experienced abuse, and copies will be available at Holywell next Tuesday. You can also obtain copies by contacting the Shrine on 01352 713054.

Listen to Joseph Kelly’s interview with Bishop Peter:

Download transcript