Plans are under way for a commemorative pilgrimage in the footsteps of King Henry V who walked from Shrewsbury to Holywell to give thanks for his famous victory over the French at Agincourt.
The 600th anniversary of the battle of 1415 will be commemorated on October 25 this year but the Diocese of Wrexham is instead making preparations to celebrate the pilgrimage that Henry V undertook the following year in honour of St Winefride.
The King had placed himself under the spiritual protection of the 7th-century Welsh virgin martyr before he routed a French army of 36,000 soldiers with a force of just 6,000 men.
When he returned to England he visited Shrewsbury Abbey, where the relics of the saint were enshrined, before walking some 60 miles to St Winefride’s Well in Flintshire, North Wales, the place where she was allegedly beheaded before being miraculously restored to life through the prayers of her uncle, St Bueno.
Plans being drawn up in Wrexham include a group walking pilgrimage along the entire route that was most likely to be followed by Henry V.
The pilgrimage will culminate in up to seven days of celebrations at St Winefride’s Well around the final weekend of June, an annual date when the saint is traditionally honoured by groups of pilgrims besides her feast of November 3.
Bishop Peter Brignall of Wrexham said that he hoped the pilgrimage would revive interest in one of the most enduring and historic Catholic shrines in Britain.
He said the pilgrimage of Henry V “was an event worth commemorating” but he also expressed the hope that it would raise the profile of Holywell as a place of pilgrimage once again.
The pilgrimage would also “tie in” with the intentions of Pope Francis in the forthcoming Year of Mercy, the bishop said.
Bishop Brignall said: “There used to be coachloads of people coming from dioceses like Liverpool, Shrewsbury and Salford but that sort of day out and pilgrimage has declined in many respects and I am keen to renew that.”
Part of the preparations for the pilgrimage, he continued, would involve trying to persuade local authorities to erect signposts for the travellers.
Henry V’s pilgrimage of thanksgiving was recorded in Latin in the Chronicle of Adam of Usk.
But historians do not know the precise date as there is no official record of the visit. This is because the King suspended his official activities to undertake it in a personal capacity.
They believe, however, that he made the journey in the spring, after the winter weather made routes passable, and before Henry received the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in London in the summer of that year.
St Winefride’s shrine at the Benedictine Shrewsbury Abbey was an important place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and the well built on the site of her murder in North Wales continues to be a place of pilgrimage to this day.
She was considered a saint and a martyr because, according to tradition, Caradog, a Welsh chieftain, fell in love with her but she shunned his amorous advances, feeling the pull of a religious vocation instead.
His disappointments boiled over into a murderous rage and he pursued the maiden as she fled to the safety of a church.
The chieftain caught up with her and cut off her head. St Beuno placed his niece’s severed head back on to her shoulders and by his prayers raised her to life again.
A white scar is said to have encircled the virgin’s neck for the rest of her life and she died of natural causes in her convent in Gwytherin, Denbighshire, some 15 years later.
Her remains were moved to Shrewsbury in the 12th century and a fictional account of their translation appears in the first of Ellis Peters’s 20 novels about Brother Cadfael, the Benedictine sleuth.
St Winefride’s shrine thereafter became an important and popular pilgrimage destination until it was destroyed in 1540 when the abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII at the onset of the Protestant Reformation.
The spring attached to her legend has survived, however, and has given its name to Holywell (Tre Ffynnon) in Clwyd, North Wales.
Besides Henry V, pilgrims have included King Richard I (Richard the Lionheart), and King James II and his wife Mary of Modena.