In north Wales, along the coast, there is a little town called Holywell. It gets its name from a legend that dates from the 7th century about a beautiful young woman named Fride. The name is the Welsh version of "Brigid," as in St. Brigid of Ireland, and harks even to pre-Christian days when the goddess Brigid watched over the hearth, the family and the flocks.
Fride of Wales was born to a pagan chief and a Christian mother. She was baptized into her mother's faith and as she grew the call to become a nun grew apace within her. But her beauty was desired by a neighboring prince, Caradog. One day as she was in the field he found her and sought to have his way with her. She resisted, and fled toward the church where her uncle, Beuno, was saying Mass. When he saw that his intentions were frustrated Caradog flew into a rage, drew his sword and cut Fride's head off.
Beuno heard the commotion and came outside the church. He at once took in what happened and cursed Cardog, who melted into a mist and sank into the ground. He then scooped Fride's severed head and placed it again on her body. She was revived to life, became a nun and lived out her days in convents in the area. Where her hed hit the ground a spring erputed, and it soon became a place of pilgrimage and a site of healing. Beuno took to washing daily in the spring, standing on a certain stone. The prefix "wini" was added to Fride's name, which means "Glorious," and the site became known as Winifred's Well. Depictions of Winifred always show a hairline scar around her neck, something she is purported to have had to her dying day.
In the 14th century a shrine was built, and the spring was encased in a stone frame in the shape of a star. From there the water runs out into a large pool about four feet deep. The water is fresh out of the ground and is very cold. Beuno's stone is fixed to the bottom of the pool. People come from all around to seek healing. They walk around the perimeter of the pool three times saying the rosary, and then they dip themselves in the frigid water three times standing on Beuno's stone. It may sound superstitious to our ears, but the pile of crutches left behind by those who have been healed is testimony to a greater reality.
Landon and I watched people come and endure the cold-water ordeal--and it is an ordeal! I sat for a time with my legs dangling in the water. Within minutes my toes were aching and numb. It was obvious that it took more desire for divine help than for creature comforts to complete the discipline. Their faces were supplicant and patient, hopeful and supremely humble.
One young couple came with their two children, a boy of about 10 and another of about 2. The little one was in a stroller, and he had his arm in a sling. Obvously the parents had come to seek healing for the little boy. Instinctively I asked his name. "Paddy," they said. I knelt down, made the sign of the crosss on his forehead, blessed him and prayed for his healing. When I looked up mother and father and friends were looking at me with wide and expectant eyes. Would I bless them, too? "I'm Anglican, not Catholic," I protested, but that meant nothing to them at that moment. I went down the line pronouncing a blessing on each one, and receiving 100-fold in return myself.
These peoples' faith looked a bit different than mine and may be less educated than mine, but in many ways they put me to shame!