Saint Winefride (also called in her native Welsh Gwenfrewy; in modern English Winifred and various variations) was the 7th century daughter of the Welsh nobleman, Tyfid ap Eiludd. She had her head severed from her body by an enraged suitor, Caradog. He was displeased because her religious devotion and a pledge to become a nun caused her to resist his advances.
In one version of this tale, her head rolled downhill, and, where it stopped, a healing spring appeared. These healing waters are now a shrine called St Winefride's Well in Holywell, the Lourdes of Wales. Saint Winefride's head was subsequently rejoined to her body due to the efforts of her maternal uncle, Saint Beuno, and she was restored to life. She later became a nun and abbess at Gwytherin in Denbighshire, after Caradog, cursed by Beuno, melted into the ground. More elaborate versions of this tale relate many details of her life, including Winefride's pilgrimage to Rome.
In spite of the slim records for this period, there appears to be a historical basis for this personage. Winefride's brother Owain is known to have killed Caradog as revenge for a crime. She succeeded the Abbess, Saint Tenoi, who is believed to be her maternal grand-aunt.
After her death (c. 660) she was interred at her abbey. In 1138 relics were carried to Shrewsbury to form the basis of an elaborate shrine (An event woven into one of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael stories, A Morbid Taste for Bones). The shrine and well became major pilgrimage goals in the Late Middle Ages, but the shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1540.
A well named after St Winifred is in the hamlet of Woolston near Oswestry in Shropshire. It is thought that on her way to Shrewsbury abbey Winifred's body was laid here overnight and a spring sprang up out of the ground. The water is supposed to have healing powers and be good at healing bruises, wounds and broken bones. The well is covered by a 16th or 17th century half-timbered cottage. The water flows through a series of stone troughs and into a large pond. This then flows into a stream. The cottage is in a quiet, peaceful setting in the middle of the countryside.
A Norman church dedicated to Saint Winifred can be found in the village of Branscombe, Devon. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest an earlier Saxon church may have occupied the site.
English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins memorialized Saint Winefride in his unfinished drama, "St Winefred's Well."