Celebrate St David’s Day in Wales with Blue Badge Guide for Wales, Carole Startin, as we travel around her home country to discover some of the wonderful holy churches, healing wells and tiny chapels…
We can’t talk about St David’s Day without talking about the great man himself. Born during a great storm, he became a prolific preacher. Legend says he was preaching in Llanddewi Brefi and someone at the back shouted “we can’t hear you!” so St David made the ground rise up under him so all could see and hear. That’s certainly a novel solution to voice projection problems! St David’s is the smallest city in the UK with a huge cathedral and an alternative place of pilgrimage for Catholics to Rome for centuries.
Let’s take a look now at the oldest continuous place of pilgrimage in the world, and yes it’s in Wales.
St Winefride’s Well
St Winefride lived in the 600s and was a very devout and pure young lass. Fending off the unwanted attentions of a local lad from the landed gentry, he became mighty miffed at her rejections, so chased her to try and get his way. She almost made it to the safety of her uncle Beuno’s church when the rascal caught up with her. Deciding if she wouldn’t have him, no one else would, he drew his sword and lopped off her head. Nice lad. Her uncle heard her screams and fell to his knees beside her to pray for the poor girl before re-attaching her head to her body. Then the miracle happened and she came back to life (yes really!) Where her head fell, a holy well came from the ground, producing healing waters and you can see the walking sticks of all those she has cured at the well site today. The well has been a holy place of pilgrimage and healing for centuries and famous kings such as Henry V after Agincourt is said to have walked barefoot from Shrewsbury to the well to say thanks for his victory.
The mother of Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort played an important part by funding the chapel which surrounds the well and you’ll find other Tudor imagery to find within the well chapel ceiling and doorways. For less than a pound entry, you can visit the well and take your own bottle to fill with the healing waters.
The Marble Church – St Margaret’s Bodelwyddan
From the poor and pious to the very rich and “Robber of Wales”. This was the nickname given to the Victorian lady who built the stunning Marble Church for £60,000 in the 1850s as a dedication to her husband. No mere statue in a graveyard for Margaret Willoughby de Broke, or Miggie as she was known to her family and friends. She had inherited her husband’s wealth and was going to jolly well spend it. Hence the nickname above, given to her by her in-laws for taking “their” money back to Wales from Compton Verney in Warwickshire. She built a beautiful decorated gothic revival church to commemorate Henry Peto Willoughby de Broke and there are subtle signs throughout the church with their images and initials to find. A bit Da Vinci Code! There is the finest Carrara marble font (pictured above) to the wonderful oak carved pulpit and lectern, not to mention the exquisite stained glass windows, one of which is said to be by Edward Coley Burne-Jones of the Pre-Raphaelites. Gems galore to explore and discover along with those hidden initials.
St Trillo’s Chapel, Rhos on Sea
This beautifully kept gem of a tiny Welsh chapel dates back to the 6th century. It seats a congregation of just 6, but still holds regular church services. No chance of falling asleep during the sermon here and not being noticed then! Once the home of St Trillo and looking towards the Irish sea, it’s now a truly hidden gem on the rocky shore of Rhos on Sea beneath the coast road near Llandudno in North Wales for all to visit. St Trillo’s well and his source of fresh water is still there in the tiny stone chapel too. You’ll find it in front of the altar.
Tintern Abbey, Wye Valley
Let’s finish by visiting one of THE iconic abbeys we have – Tintern. In a lush location beside the Wye river and valley on the English border, the Cistercian monks who built this knew how to pick a scenic spot and boy was this built with oodles of devotion to their faith. Living on prayer, work, study and no meat or fish (unless you were old or ill) and getting up at 0130 during the summer months, life was hard for these chaps. Even in its dissolution state, it’s magnificent and I’ve known tour groups reduced to tears, just visiting this very special site.
So there you have it, a whistle stop whiz around all that holy in Wales on our special day. Please do come and visit once lockdown has eased and I’ll be delighted to take you around
Featured image: “Yellow Daffodil.” by Godo-Godaj, licensed under CC BY 2.0
About the Author
Carole Startin is a Blue Badge Tourist Guide for Wales. She has been in travel and tourism for 40 years, starting as a travel agent, then destination marketing, airline tour operators and hotel group. She became a guide in 2010 and have loved every minute of showing people from all around the world her beautiful part of the UK. She also qualified as a European Guide Trainer in 2019. You can contact her directly through the website Celtic Tour Wales or through the email firstname.lastname@example.org.