Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Quest for Gwenffrewi

One of my tasks this Spring Term is to write a paper of 6–8,000 words and I have chose to write about the seventh century Welsh saint Gwenffrewi, known in English as Winifred or Winefride. She lived the last fifteen years of her life in a monastic community in a remote part of north Wales near the village of Gwytherin near Holywell, the spot where she had miraculously caused a healing spring to gush forth. So I took the opportunity of my Better Half's absence in South Africa with Number Three daughter and grandchildren visiting Number One daughter to go to the place that she died.

When that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote, …
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

The Lion Inn at Gwytherin is right opposite the entrance to the churchyard of the now deconsecrated church dedicated to Saint Winifred. My stay there started well with looking at the folder of visitors' information in my room I read at the start a piece by the priest and poet R.S. Thomas.


Not conscious // that you have been seeking // suddenly // you come upon it.

The village in the Welsh hills // dust free // with no road out // but the one you came in by.

A bird chimes // from a green tree // the hour that is no hour // you know. The river dawdles // to hold a mirror to you // where you may see yourself // as you are, a traveller // with the moon's halo // above him, who has arrived // after long journeying where he // began, catching this // one truth by surprise // that there is everything to look forward to.

There was indeed everything to look forward to, "Seek", it is said, "and ye shall find." It was easy enough to find the place where she is locally reputed to have lived as a hermit, half a mile up a track into the hills from the farmyard of Tai Pella, at a spot where two streams come together. This is what I had come to see, but I also hoped to stumble upon other nuggets about my saint.

Stumble I did. Chatting with a fellow guest from Cardiff I learnt that a friend of hers from south west Wales had as a child been taken by her mother to the local holy well before going to see the doctor and that this was common practice. Apart from promising to e-mail me something more corroborative about this, Janice also talked to me, from her scientific background, most wisely about writing theses and introduced me to the idea of the Null Hypothesis.

Yet better was to come. I was sitting reading in the evening sunshine on a bench opposite the pub when the landlord came across to say that the new owner of the church building had just come over from Liverpool and led me to introduce me to her. Alison is a multi-faceted woman – artist, photographer, musician, teacher – who has personal reasons for wanting to keep the memory of the saint and her beneficial influence with a place of focus.

She has been studying Winifred's life for years and we had, as might well be imagined, a lively conversation. She can obviously help me with my researches and I can help her get a website about her project off the ground. It promises to be a most productive collaboration.

And so, with the sun just rising above the two-thousand-year-old yew trees in the churchyard, I am just going back to Tai Pella to the place that Rhiannon told me about yesterday evening to photograph it in the morning light and then to the Lion Inn for breakfast and on to the saint's well at Holywell.

Drafted on Sunday 18 April 2010

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