It’s just been announced that there will be a re-staging of the famous pilgrimage from Shrewsbury to Holywell undertaken by King Henry V in 1416. King Henry was visiting the two major shrines associated with St Winefride, who he believed had brought him victory at the Battle of Agincourt (the year before, in 1415).
See Agincourt Pilgrimage celebration news-story
Religious people have expressed hope that the 600th anniversary celebrations will re-inspire the idea of pilgrimage in Britain.
But what’s of interest to enthusiasts of Margaret Rope’s work is that Marga seems to have had a particular fondness for St Winefride. She is known to have placed St Winefride in three churches at least.
In a sense, it might be obvious that Marga (or her clients) might want St Winefride to appear in windows, as she does, in Shrewsbury Cathedral, Oxton Church and Newport Church (see Arthur Rope’s list of Marga’s windows). These three churches were at one time all in the Shrewsbury RC Diocese; and St Winifrede is the secondary patron saint of the diocese.
But Marga does seem to have even more inspired than usual by the subject. Her Saint Winfrede in Newport is among her most beautiful work.
Shrewsbury & Winifrede
Saint Winefride was a real person, living in the seventh century. The most famous story about her is that her head was cut off by a rejected suitor, only for it to be restored by another saint. The story continues that the miracle caused a spring of water to gush from the ground – the site of (or near to) St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, which continues as a shrine to this day.
The story continues that Winefride then entered a convent – giving another reason that Marga may have felt drawn to Saint Winefrid … they both became nuns.
The connection with Shrewsbury meanwhile is because the Benedictine Order at Shrewsbury Abbey managed to acquire the saint’s relics in 1138, thus ensuring the abbey became an important place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages (equalling Holywell, where the waters are believed to have curative powers).
At some point (it would be nice to know when and how) a fingerbone of the saint was split in two – and one part given in the nineteenth century to the newly-built Catholic cathedral in Shrewsbury, and the other part to the Holywell shrine, where a small museum also exists.
Marga features in this account too – as it was she who designed the reliquary which now holds the saint’s fingerbone (to this day) at the cathedral.
(What happened to the rest of the relics is unknown, but it is possible they were destroyed during the Reformation.)
Whatever else, St Winefride’s reputation is about to get a fresh boost – and, maybe too, Marga’s beautiful depictions of her.
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