excerpted from The Life of Saint Winefride Virgin and Martyr:
In the western portion of the island of Great Britain, is the province called Wales, bounded on one side by the frontier of the kingdom of England, on the other by the sea. This region was in old times the abode of a multitude of saints, of great and diverse merit, and is adorned to this day with innumerable privileges and memorials which recall their names. Among these saints was a holy man of great fame and eminence, whose name was Beuno, highly distinguished for sanctity even among so great a multitude of saints. Leaving his native place, trampling on the pride of the world, shunning its perilous temptations, he fled in absolute poverty, became a monk, and soon began to lead a perfect life in Christ. Having founded churches, and gathered together congregations of brethren devoted to the service of God, in more than one place, he was directed by an admonition from Heaven to go elsewhere, and seek another spot in which to dwell. Led by the Spirit of God, Who directed his steps to the future benefit and advantage of numbers yet unborn, he arrived at the seat of a powerful chieftain named Theuith, who was the son of a senator of the highest rank next to the king, named Eliuth, and who considered that he was doing honour to the traditions of his noble birth by maintaining his household and establishment in suitable elegance and splendour.
The venerable Beuno, coming to the house of this chief, was by him kindly and respectfully entertained. He lost no time in explaining to his host the motives of his journey, and calling him aside, said to him: "My lord, I am sent to you by an instinct which comes from on high. I have lived in many places, and have never failed to find a place of residence which suited my purpose and inclination;yet my spirit nowhere found rest ; the Spirit of God continually urged me to seek a fresh abode. Leaving, therefore, the habitations in which I took most pleasure, I come now to you, ignorant for what purpose the Divine will, which foresees that which is to come, has directed me hither. I am sure that these things are not accidental, nor is there any doubt that. All things are ordered by the command of God, that mans purpose is made the instrument of the execution of His decrees. If you will accede to my wishes, you will further your own salvation by patiently considering the proposal I am going to make. I ask you to concede to me some portion of your patrimonial estates, that I may build a church in which I may serve God, and pray daily for your salvation."
The chieftain, who had perceived him to be a man worthy of praise and veneration, was already prepared to yield to his wishes; and his reply was to this effect: "It is only right and just to pay back to God a part of the gifts He has bestowed upon us, in gratitude for His beneficence. I owe you also gratitude for making this request to me, and am not ignorant that it is in my own interest to grant it.
"Come, therefore, and take what you demand. I give you up this villa in undisturbed possession, free from all liabilities to myself or my successors, and devoted to the service of God only. I have a daughter, my only child, on whom all my joy and all my hopes have heretofore exclusively rested. I wish to commit her education to your charge, and desire you to pray the Lord to dispose her way of life to His glory and my true honour, and that I may live to rejoice in her."
Without delay he made over the estate to the holy man to build a church, and the accommodation required for the servants of God who were to reside there, removing himself and all his effects to another spot, whence he had the dwelling of the holy man in sight, and could behold it at any hour of the day. The Saint thus speedily obtained his wish.
The chief not unfrequently laboured with his own hands in the construction of the church, and constantly attended to it, supplying the expenses and encouraging the workmen. He was also often present at the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, with his wife, and with his daughter, whose name was Winefride. And when the man of God announced to the people the Divine commands, he placed the young maiden at his feet, desiring her to listen attentively to all she heard, and receive his words in her heart. And God, Who foresaw what was to come, did not permit all this to be in vain. The maiden, destined to be herself God's temple in after years, listened eagerly and affectionately to what she heard, and stored it all in her memory. She often asked and obtained permission from her parents to seek the man of God at other times, and thirstily drank in the words, sweeter than honey, which fell from his lips. And though her parents both loved her tenderly, and the only hope of the transmission of their line rested in her, yet they rejoiced to see her attend to the Saint's discourse, for the better preservation of her chastity with a view to marriage, which they contemplated for her. But the mercy of God inspired her with a nobler ambition than she yet realized. Daily she advanced in sanctity and wisdom, and God's Spirit filled her heart and mind. Gradually she resolved to put aside all thoughts of man, and long only for the embrace of God; but hesitated to make this resolution known to her parents. She thought she ought not to oppose them; and yet she knew that it was best for her to be united wholly to God. She was aware that both her parents wished her to be married for the sake of continuing the line of their house; yet she knew with still greater certainty that it was far better to offer herself a chaste virgin of Christ.
This conflict in the mind of the young girl occasioned her no little uneasiness. On one side the fear of displeasing her parents kept her from her purpose, on the other the love of God powerfully impelled her to put it in execution without delay. Her master had recited to her the words of the Lord, commanding her to leave her father and mother and follow Christ ; but she was as yet too young to take the vows. At last she resolved upon doing this, if no other way was made clear to her for the accomplishment of her holy purpose; but she thought it best to obtain the intervention of the man of God with her parents, in the hope that with the aid of God's grace she might thus bring them round to her view. She went to him, and told him her secret wish. "You have sown the seed of the Word of God," she said to him; " I wish you to see what has grown up from it. I have determined to abandon the luxury and splendour of the world, and preserve my maidenhood whole and undenled for the honour of my Heavenly Bridegroom. And for this you, most holy Father, must obtain for me the consent of both my parents."
The Saint was deeply moved by such an evidence of piety, and rejoicing that Divine grace had brought forth such fruit as this, promised to speak earnestly to her parents on the subject, and do what in him lay for the accomplishment of her wish. He found his task easier than he had expected. The parents of the girl reposed such full confidence in him that they were entirely under his guidance ; and the sweetness of heavenly things, which they ardently desired all mankind, and especially their daughter, to experience and enjoy, had taken full possession of their own minds. When they were made acquainted with his wishes, they blessed God with abundance of tears, and readily granted his request. They proceeded to lay aside a burden which had long weighed heavily upon them, their earthly possessions, which they distributed to the poor; and they expended upon the Divine Offices the sum they had set apart as a dowry for their daughter, in the event of her marriage. Freed from the cares of the world, they gave themselves up wholly to the commands of God, walking in the path of justice, and never turning aside.
The maiden herself was overwhelmed with joy at attaining the great desire of her heart. Rejoicing in the Holy Ghost, she sat for some time as a postulant at the feet of the man of God, listening eagerly to all he told her of the glory of her Heavenly Spouse. Left to do as she pleased, she ran with dilated heart in the way of the commandments of God, forgetting the things that were behind, and stretching forth to those which were before. For love of Him to Whom she had devoted herself, she allowed in herself nothing that was of earth, desiring only, like the prophet, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of her life. She did not wait for her parents to conduct her to the church, but went early in the morning to be present at the Divine Mysteries; not unfrequently she watched there all through the night. Sometimes she would break in unseasonably upon the holy man, and desire to hear more about her Bridegroom, what He was like, and what He did. Loving Him with her whole heart, she was delighted to hear any one speak of the excellency, power, and splendour of her Heavenly Lover. She took more delight in this than in any pleasure the world could afford her, and it left an unfailing sentiment of joy and delight within her heart. Young as she was, she was already grey in mind and character, and had no desire left for anything but God; girl as she was, she was a man in the perfection of every virtue. Exteriorly, as well as in her soul, she was endowed largely with the gifts of God; she was fair to see, affable to speak to, modest and composed in all her movements. Nor did these graces fail to expose her, as we shall see, to the wiles and stratagems of the cunning enemy of souls. Earnestly engaged as she was in the work of her salvation, the devil could not but perceive that his power and dominion were likely to be severely shaken through her means, and desisted not from his machinations until he thought he had prevailed, and that she could do him no further harm, which happened in this way.
THE blessed Beuno completed the building of his church, with God's help, and when it had been dedicated to God, the people in the neighbourhood began to resort to him; and the parents of Winefride came every day to hear him speak of the things of God.
One Sunday, while every one was on the way to church, and the parents of the maiden were gone to hear the preaching of the holy man and to attend Mass, their daughter, being sick, was compelled to remain at home. A young man named Caradoc, son of King Alan, entered the house, and found her seated near the fire. She recognized the king's son, and rising, gently asked him what he wanted. He inquired where her father was, and said he wished much to speak to him. She said: "My father is gone to the church, to assist at the Divine Mysteries, and if it is necessary for you to see him, you must wait a little while till he returns." She said this in perfect simplicity, and without a suspicion of any evil design on his part; but, in fact, his evil passions had brought him thither, and now hurried him on violently to the accomplishment of his wishes.
He replied: "I will wait patiently for his return if, meanwhile, you will be kind to me, and consent to what I wish. You know I am a king's son, and can endow you with wealth and honours, if you will agree to my request." She then perceived his intention and, with a blush, cast down her eyes; but with great presence of mind she pretended to be distressed because he had found her in her simple and ordinary dress. After a pause she said to him: "You are a king's son and, by God's permission, will one day be a king yourself: and I have no doubt you would surround me with every earthly happiness if I became your wife. Yet, wait till my father comes, and I, meanwhile, will go to my chamber and quickly return to you." Her only object in saying this was to get away from him for an hour. For she could see that the unhappy young man was nearly wild with his unholy passion, and almost tortured to death by it. Her parents absence made him dangerous, and she exerted all her ingenuity to find a means of escape. He permitted her to go to her room, in the expectation that she would speedily return to him more handsomely dressed. She rose, entered the chamber and, without an instant's delay, went out by another door, and ran as fast as she could towards the church, where she hoped the presence of the congregation, if not the fear of God, would afford her protection.
The ill-starred youth soon found out that she was gone and, furious at her escape, seized his sword and made after her. The house was at some little distance from the church, and he overtook her without much difficulty. Staring savagely at her, he thus addressed her: "Once I loved you, and desired to hold you in my embrace. You have fled from me when I came to you; you reject the suit I made to you. Yield now to me, or else this sword shall put an end to your life, for I will cut off your head."
The maiden looked towards the church, to see if any one would come out, but no one appeared. Then she turned to him and said: "I am betrothed to the Son of the Eternal King, the Judge of all mankind. No other spouse can I receive; no other will I have while I live. I should outrage Him otherwise. Draw your sword, and exert all your strength and ferocity; but be sure that neither terror nor flattery, promises or threats, will ever draw me away from the sweetness of His love, to Whom my own love and devotion are pledged."
The licentious prince heard that he was despised, and well knew that she would keep her word. His passion overmastered him; he felt he could never know a moment's rest while she was alive. He drew his sword from the scabbard, and cut off her head. And the moment the head fell to the ground, and on the spot it touched, a copious spring of the purest water gushed forth, and continues to flow to this day, giving healing to multitudes through the merit of this blessed maiden. The head rolled into the church, which was close by, the body falling outside, for the church was at the foot of an incline, on which the two had been standing, down which the head rolled, while the body remained where it had fallen.
The head rolled among the feet of the people standing in the church and attending at the Divine Mysteries. There was a cry of dismay and horror; all exclaimed at the enormity of the crime, and called out for vengeance on the perpetrator. The girl's parents heard the commotion and, running to the spot, asked what had happened. They saw their daughter lying dead, and her head cut off, lying at their feet, and they both fell to the ground, amid tears and lamentations, overwhelmed with horror and grief. There was great confusion in the church, all lamenting the virgin's death, and many deeply compassionating the misery of her unhappy parents.
Into the midst of the tumult the holy man came from the altar, and seeing the maiden whom he was about to consecrate to God so cruelly murdered, expressed the profoundest sorrow and compassion. The murderer still stood outside, wiping his sword upon the grass, in sight of them all. Being the king's son, he thought he could not be punished for the crime, in the commission of which he had forgotten all fear of God. This pride and hardness of heart, glorying in the deed he had done, was more than the Saint could endure, and going up to him, with the maiden's head in his hands and looking into his face, he said to him:
"Wretch, who have disgraced the generosity of youth and the honour of regal descent by so foul a murder, do you not even repent the deed? Having broken the peace, outraged the Church, horribly offended God, are you not sorry for what you have done? Then, since you spare not the Church, and have no reverence for the sacred day of the Lord's Resurrection, I pray my God that you may this instant receive the reward due to the crime you have committed." The young man fell to the ground, and instantly expired; and, to the astonishment and terror of all the beholders, his body melted away and disappeared. Many asserted that they saw the earth open and swallow him up, so that his body seemed to go down with his soul into the pit of Hell.
The Saint held the dissevered head of the young maiden in his hands and kissed it, with tears and anguish of soul. Recovering, he fitted the head to the body, which he covered with his cloak, and breathed into the nostrils. Then he desired her parents, who had all this time seemed inconsolable, to pause in their grief, and went himself to the altar and celebrated Mass. This done, he returned to the body, all earnestly regarding him and raising their hopes to God for what they hardly dared to ask. He addressed a few words to them, telling them that this blessed virgin had given her vow to God, and time only had been wanting for its fulfilment ; and that their duty now was to throw themselves on their knees in His presence and pray for her resurrection, in view of the benefits she would confer upon multitudes in generations to come. This they readily did, for they were profoundly affected by the maiden's sudden and early death and the frightful grief of her parents. They prayed long and earnestly, and then the holy man, rising from the ground and lifting his hands to Heaven, said:
"Lord Jesus Christ, for love of Whom this maiden despised the things of earth and aspired only after those which are above, mercifully listen to our prayer of devotion, and pour forth the bounds of Thy piety upon us, and by Thy power give effect, now and here, to what we desire. And, though we know full well that this maiden, who suffered death for Thee and is now resting in celestial joy, is in no want of our society, nor would wish to rejoin us here on earth, yet do Thou, most kind Father, listen to the prayer of Thy children supplicating Thee, and give assent to their petition. Let her soul, restored to her body, prove Thee Lord of body and soul alike, that returning to life she may magnify Thy name, and the years of her mortal pilgrimage fully accomplished, return with the multiplied usury of a holy life and conversation to Thee, her Spouse, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, with Whom, and the Holy Spirit, Thou livest and art glorified, God for ever and ever, through endless ages.
All answered Amen. The dead girl rose up as if from sleep, wiped the sweat and dust from her brow, and looked at them as they stood transfixed with astonishment and admiration. A slender scar like a white thread was visible all round her neck, marking the place where the head had been severed, and remained visible throughout the rest of her life, in testimony of the wonderful miracle of which she had been the subject. The people of those parts insist that she was called Winefride from this circumstance, for the syllable wen signifies white in their language, and two letters of her original name (Brewi) being changed for euphony, we thus get the name Winefride. It is also related that the white thread on the neck was plainly visible to all those to whom she was permitted to appear after her death, which is an argument to show that she was not displeased to have this name conferred upon her.
The place where her blood was spilt was originally called the Dry Valley; but from the time the fountain sprang up on the spot where her head in falling touched the ground, and which has continued to flow to this day, healing all diseases both in men and cattle, the place has been called by her name. In their language it is Ffynon Gwenflewi, the word ffynon having the same meaning as the Latin word fons, a fountain. From the blood that streamed from her body, and flowed down the hill, the stones, both in the source of the stream and on its banks, were coloured crimson; and wonderful to relate, they still retain their crimson colour, as will be seen by all that look at them. They appear as if covered with clotted blood, which, however, no industry or perseverance can wash away. The moss which adheres to them has the smell of incense. It is well known to all the dwellers in the neighbourhood, by ancient tradition, that the fountain has continued to flow just as it did at first, and the blood-stained stones remain as a witness of the virgin-martyr's merits, and of her willingness to aid and succour all who invoke her. And the men of that region who had not as yet learned to know the true God and His justice, having witnessed the miraculous resuscitation of the holy maiden, and the evident miracle of the fountain bursting forth on the spot, threw themselves at the feet of the holy man, and petitioned to learn from him the mysteries of God. He received them with kindness and piety, purified them in the laver of Baptism, instructed them in the precepts of God, and confirmed them in His service.
WE have now to describe briefly the life which the blessed Winefride continued to lead after her resuscitation, and her end, after the completion of her mortal term. On being raised from death she continued, as before, to sit at the feet of the holy man, listening to his discourse, and seeking fuller instruction in the things of God. At length, having obtained full knowledge of the rule of ecclesiastical discipline, she urged to be allowed at once to assume the veil.
"My parents," she said, "offer no opposition, and you know my mind, which is bent upon despising the pleasures of the world, and longs only for the knowledge and love of God. There is no reason for delay, or for withholding from me the blessing I desire. I shall not quit you, and cannot be torn from your feet, until by your blessing I am initiated into the mysteries of regular discipline, and my outward habit shows me to have taken my lot with God. Do not delay my wishes, holy Father, but yield to my persuasion and give me what I so earnestly desire." Then the holy man sent for her parents, laid before them their daughter's wishes, and intimated that he was ready to comply with her request. Their consent was readily and gladly given, and he received her vows and clothed her with the sacred veil in presence of a multitude of witnesses. She continued to advance to greater and greater perfection, and delighted her teacher and director by the ardour of her love to God and man. Presently he called her parents to him, and addressed them as follows:
"It is you who received me when I came, a stranger, listened to my request, gave me a place of habitation for God s service, have done all in your power to aid me in carrying it on. God's grace has richly rewarded you. A light from Heaven has shone upon you and your child. Cultivate and follow it, and walk carefully in the way it will guide you. And since God is calling me elsewhere, and you will no longer have my presence among you, attend to what your daughter says, for most assuredly not to you only, but to all people in times to come, she will be an example of salvation."
Then turning to the holy maiden: "You," he said, "are by God's command to succeed to my labours in this place, living in this spot, and following your self, and exhibiting to others, the path of life which I have pointed out to you. He has chosen you to bear the palm of conspicuous merit in His presence, that by the double example of your martyrdom and your holy life, many may be brought to love and serve Him. You must reside here and gather round you a band of maidens devoted like yourself to God. Yet you may hold it as certain that you will not here end your days. For having served God here for seven years in abstinence of body and affliction of spirit, you will under Divine direction seek another abode. God will both direct your course, and through you will illuminate the darkness of the hearts of many. And bear this in mind, that your memory will be great and celebrated in the world, and that multitudes will testify, by the healing of their sicknesses and infirmities by your intercession, how great were your merits before God."
The blessed maiden wept in great affliction when she heard of the departure of her teacher, but Beuno, taking her by the hand, led her to the fountain which had sprung up where her head had fallen to the earth, and making her stand upon the stone which is still to be seen by the fountain s side, and is called by the inhabitants St. Beuno's stone, he addressed her in these words: "Behold the traces of your passion. These stones, sprinkled with your blood, prove that you suffered martyrdom for God, for they are still freshly reddened with your blood, to your honour, and for a memorial of you to many that shall come. Now, therefore, attend to the words I am about to say, words which will be repeated with awe and reverence in the hearing of multitudes of men, and will be of service and benefit to many in the ages that are to be hereafter. Three gifts are given to you by God, which shall be the title of your praise, and imprint in the minds of posterity the love and reverence of your devotion. These stones, red with your blood, shall never cease to be spotted with that blood, but in memory of your passion will retain the hue of gore for ever, by the power of God, and in memory of the triumph of your chastity. Whoever shall at any time, in whatsoever sorrow or suffering, implore your aid for deliverance from sickness or misfortune, shall at the first, or the second, or certainly the third petition, obtain his wish, and rejoice in the attainment of what he asked for. And if at the third petition he fail to obtain it, he will know that he is shortly to terminate this mortal life, and for this reason, by the secret judgment of God, is denied his request, but for his soul's sake should persevere in his invocation of your assistance to obtain what is far better than anything he may have asked. And the third gift is this: when I leave you, I shall seek the habitation which God will provide for me on the margin of the sea; and though I shall be at a great distance from you, yet the Highest has commanded that every year a gift from you shall reach my hands. Whenever, therefore, you have ready the present you intend to send me, bring it to this fountain, whatever it may be, and committing it to God, place it confidently in the water. You shall see your deposit carried down by the stream into the great river that flows below, and the sea shall obey its Maker's will, and carry your gift to the door of my retreat, across the rolling waves and amid the stormy winds, till it safely reaches my abode. And this is to be done, so God commands, every year, as long as my life continues. And these three gifts, conferred upon you by God will be the seal and proof of the Divine favour that rests upon you, and will be wondered at and related by multitudes to the glory of your praise and name."
He conducted her to the church, and there said to her: "I leave to you this temple and the buildings round it, constructed partly by my own labour, and partly at the expense of your parents, that when I am gone away, you, and the virgins whom you gather round you, may serve God as you propose, always keeping before you the example I have set you. Know that in this spot there will take place a grand exhibition of the mercy of God, to the temporal and eternal welfare of many, and that by the example of those who dwell here multitudes will be led to the knowledge of God, despising all the emoluments of the world to make gain of Christ. Many will here be healed of ailments of body and soul, and every age and sex will here find the remedy they require. Brute animals will not lose their share of these benefits, for God's clemency will so rest upon this place that great miracles will be wrought here for the honour of your name. Therefore prove yourself an acceptable advocate with God, and so act towards all men that in you His holy Name may be glorified, and you may be a means of salvation to those who behold you. I go to serve God elsewhere, in my humble measure, and ever while I live shall retain in my heart, in sweet memory, the recollection of your devotion."
He went away, taking nothing but his staff, leaving all the furniture and whatever else God had given him by the hands of the faithful, to the blessed maid and her companions. One clerk alone accompanied him; all the others he commended to God with his farewell. But as he went he frequently stopped to look back at the blessed Winefride, tears flowing from his eyes at the thought that he would not behold her bodily presence again. His words and his departure greatly afflicted her, and her sorrow was evident in her face, as she complained that she was left alone and unaided, exposed to the assaults of wicked men, deprived of the presence and affectionate care of her shepherd. And while they endeavoured to console her, she and some others accompanied her beloved Father in God as he left the church, and as long as she kept up with him she was inconsolable, which the holy man perceiving, and being scarcely less moved himself, at length he quickened his steps and tore himself away, giving her his benediction with his right hand as he did so. She followed him with her gaze anxiously till he was out of sight, and then she turned home with her companions.
But after a time, recalling the mode of her conversion to God, her title to martyrdom, and the surprising predictions of Beuno, she took courage and abandoned her sorrow. She was the bride of Christ, and her whole desire was to live worthily of His heavenly affection and chaste embrace. A large number of young maidens soon came to put themselves under her charge, and not a few were induced by her example to take the religious vows, and assume the veil. She led them in strict observance of their rule, both by precept and example, always doing herself what she exhorted them to do, and persevering in fasting, prayers, and vigils. Numerous miracles accredited and seconded the exhortations she addressed to them, and God's grace conferred upon her a sweetness and eloquence of language which made her persuasions irresistible. They all rejoiced and glorified in a superior who was so visibly endowed with celestial grace, and upon whom there seemed to rest a light which came direct from Heaven. All the people of the neighbourhood were brought by her example to the love of devotion; those at a greater distance rejoiced in her fame and honour, and in the miracles which God wrought by her hands. The wild and untutored populations of the Welsh mountains were softened and subdued by her gentleness, and numbers fixed their residence in her immediate neighbourhood, so that the spot she dwelt in was no longer a solitude, but grew into a town.
Blessed Winefride never lost sight of the recollection of her beloved master and teacher, and as the anniversary of his departure drew near, she took care to prepare the present he had desired her to send him. She made a cloak, with the willing aid of the maidens who were under her charge, and early on the morning of the day on which it was to be sent, which was the ist of May, she repaired with many others to the fountain side, carefully wrapped the garment in a white cloth, and placed it in the water, saying that she entrusted it to the stream for conveyance to the blessed Beuno. And wonderful to relate, incredible except to faith, the parcel was not wetted by the water, and the stream carried it, dry and uninjured, down into the broad estuary of the river Dee. All that day and the following night it was borne forward by the waves, and in the morning was cast on the shore close by the spot where Beuno had fixed his habitation. In the morning, when Beuno came out of the church, he stood for some time on the shore, admiring the expanse of waters, and watching the ebb of the tide, when his eye was caught by the folded cloth left on the shore by the retreating waves. He went forward and raised it, unfolded the cloth wrapped round it, and found the cloak unharmed by the waves; even the outer cloth was perfectly dry. Reflecting on the cause of this phenomenon, the memory of the maiden Winefride, beloved of God, came into his mind, and he recognized that in obedience to his command she had sent him this present, which the waves had carried to him unharmed. He gave thanks to God, and laid up the gift in his church, for his own use and that of the other servants of God. And he rejoiced especially and greatly because she had been mindful of his words, and because her fame was spread throughout all that country. And he prayed that the Lord would bestow upon her the increase of all virtue, that whatever was pleasing in His eyes might be found abundantly in her, and that the consciences of others might through her be enkindled with devotion towards Heaven.
And it appeared by the event that these prayers were heard and answered. For the love of heavenly things carried her so far that she appeared in herself a sum of all perfection, and was like a bright ray from Heaven illumining all the country with the perfect example of a holy light, both those who saw her and those who saw her not. She had a way of persuading every one, which seemed miraculous and divine. All the people of the country abandoned whatever she warned them to abstain from, and applied themselves eagerly to the works of faith which they learned from her, and saw practised by her and the virgins under her charge, while she carefully and minutely carried out all the instructions she had received from the blessed Beuno, omitting nothing. Every year, on the first of May, she sent her present to her master, in the manner described, as long as he lived; and he always found it next morning cast up by the waves at the door of his monastery. From this circumstance the holy man obtained the name by which he is known throughout Wales, to this very day, Beuno Casul Sech, that is, Beuno of the Dry Cloak, because it was carried to him dry through the waves. After a few years he left this world, and migrated to celestial joy, at an advanced age. The story of his life and death, the actions of his earlier years, and the miracles wrought at his intercession after his death, are kept on record, and retained in the reverent and affectionate memory of the people, and are remarkable in this, that the miracles which followed his death are much more numerous than those he wrought during his life.
HAVING heard of the death of her master and teacher, St. Winefride mourned and prayed for him, and no longer sent her annual present. She began to be sensible of the loneliness of her situation and felt as if she was deprived of all human aid. Several of her companions had died; she began to be weary of the place in which she lived. Then there came into her mind the words of her beloved teacher, who had told her that after seven years she would remove elsewhere. She left off building, and all similar undertakings, and her spirit found no rest as long as she continued to dwell in that place; though she felt that she could not actually leave until the seven years were fully run out. But, when the seven years were expired, she felt herself free, and understood that she must determine her own course on her own responsibility.
She therefore addressed hersejf to God in earnest prayer, entreating Him to direct her where to go for her own advantage and spiritual profit, and that of others; and that He would send His blessing on the spot where she had lived, so that all who resorted thither, either for prayer or remedy for sickness or trouble, might obtain what they sought on invoking her name, and by the intercession of those who had devoted themselves to a spiritual and holy life in that place. How this prayer was heard is proved unmistakeably by the testimony of innumerable multitudes who have been relieved of their infirmities at that spot, as will be shown by many examples which we will proceed to cite, when we have brought this story to a close.
While the blessed Winefride was earnestly engaged in prayer, entreating God's mercy to guide her in her way, one night, while she was watching and praying, a message from Heaven sounded in her ears, to this effect: "Take one of your maidens to accompany you, and go to the blessed Deifer, who lives at the place called Botavarrus (Bodfari), and consult him as to what you are to do, and where you are to go." He was a great man before the Lord, walking in all His commandments and justifications and was blameless. It is related of him that, filled with the grace of super natural power and virtue, he made a fountain of water spring up out of the ground, and, extending his hand over it in blessing, prayed God that any sick man who bathed in that stream might return home cured and in health, and the efficacy of his prayer was proved by great numbers of people who in this way obtained restoration to health. Many miracles are recorded of him as wrought during his life, but one which occurred after his death is especially worthy of being mentioned, as exhibiting the abundant efficacy and value of his merit. A band of thieves going forth to plunder, found two horses in the cemetery where the blessed Deifer was interred, and took them away with them, thinking to escape without difficulty. The owners subsequently came to the cemetery and, not finding the horses, concluded that they had been stolen. They returned home and made some candles, with which they entered the chapel of the confessor, and placed them upon the altar. The candles were not lighted, and they had no means of lighting them, and they therefore prayed the Saint of God either to light them by a ray from Heaven, or else accept their devotion as it was intended. But the Saint, as if to show that he accepted their offering and petition, suddenly lighted the candles in their presence. This increased both their devotion to St. Deifer and their hope of recovering their lost property by his means, and in this hope they were not disappointed. For the thieves wandered all over the neighbourhood, and about midnight, having lost their way, looked about them to discover where they were. They found themselves at the fence of Deifer's cemetery. They were much disturbed at this discovery, for they knew well that if they were caught they would have a severe penalty to pay for their crime. Accordingly, they rode off again as fast and as far as they could. But the hand of God was still upon them. Day broke and they found themselves once more in front of the gate of the cemetery, where they had dismounted, and were holding their horses by their bridles; at the very moment when the owners of the lost steeds came forth from the oratory, where they had spent the night, in confidence of Divine assistance coming to them in the morning, and caught them with the stolen property on their hands. They recovered their horses, and let the thieves go; but the circumstance illustrates the merits of the holy man to whose advice the blessed Winefride was divinely instructed to have recourse.
The most holy maid, accordingly, committing to God's care the habitation and the companions whom she was leaving, and taking one of them with her, as directed by the oracle, sought the abode of blessed Deifer, which was about eight miles distant, and was by him kindly received. Having prayed long, they sat down, and the maiden explained the cause of her coming. The holy man answered her: "I am at present profoundly ignorant of God's design in this; but have patience, and remain here this night. Perhaps God will reveal His will to us, and fulfill your wishes."
To this she readily agreed, for the oracle from Heaven had plainly signified to her that this holy man was to direct her what to do. All that night he continued in prayer, as was his wont; and as he prayed, he heard a voice from Heaven saying:
"Tell My beloved child, the virgin Winefride, to go to the village of Henthlant (Henllan), where she will in part obtain what she wishes. She will there find a venerable man, named Saturnus, from whom she will learn more fully what to do, and where to fix her habitation." In the morning the holy Deifer called the maiden, and told her all that had been said to him, pointed out to her the route she was to follow, and bade her follow it joyfully, for it would lead her to the accomplishment of all she wished.
The blessed Winefride accordingly, rejoicing that all doubt was now removed, and that she was certainly under the protection of God, set out to visit the blessed Saturnus, who received her with every mark of kindness. He had already been warned of her approaching visit, and of its object, by a voice from Heaven, and requested her to remain there that night, promising to give her full direction in the morning. When the morning came Saturnus said to her: "There is a spot called Witheriacus (Gwytherin), honoured by the relics and the memory of many saints, and beloved by God and reverenced by men for the holy lives they are leading or have led. There it is God s will that you shall dwell for the remainder of your days, and by your example animate and inform the minds of others. The abbot, whose name is Elerius, is a man of great virtue, whom continual groaning and perseverance in prayer have so purified and set free from earthly cares that he feels no longer the ambitions or pleasures of the world, but is intent only on Heaven. To him I am commanded by God to direct you, and to assure you that you will there find all that is sufficient to satisfy in this life a soul which only longs for Heaven. There are there virgins dedicated to God, who even from their infancy have been brought up in the observances of the religious life, and attend to them with careful devotion. To these your admonitions and example, with God's blessing, will bring profit and improvement. Watchful as they are in the service of Christ, your coming among them will render them still more devout, and a brighter splendour from on high will rest upon them."
Hearing of the holy life these virgins led, she at once professed her desire to join them, and asked for a guide that she might set out without delay. St. Saturnus sent his deacon with her to show her the way, and himself accompanied her for the beginning of her journey. He told her much of the pleasantness of the new home she was seeking, and when at length he left her, at her desire, he gave her his blessing. The holy Elerius, who was notified of her approach by the Spirit of God, came quickly part of the way to meet her, and received her as a most faithful worshipper of God, while the deacon repeated all that his superior had desired him to say, and told in what way God had made manifest His will that she should seek that spot. Greeting her with great reverence and affection, the Saint first conducted her into his church, and his prayer completed, embraced and exhorted her to courage. Then taking her aside, he asked her what were her own intentions and idea. "For," he said, "although the course of your life, the way in which you were initiated into the Divine mysteries, and how you obtained the title of martyrdom by decapitation, and the shedding of your blood, all this has been made known to my humility by Divine manifestation, I wish to learn from your own lips the cause which has induced you to take the trouble to travel so far."
She replied: "He Who revealed to you the things you have condescended to tell me, has not, I think, left you totally in ignorance of what I wish and of my object in coming here. The power which revealed to you the past concerning me, can also reveal to you the future. Receive me, therefore, as one committed to your charge by Heaven, and dispose of my mode of life according to the tenour of the Divine command which foreshadows it to you." The holy man deferred his communication until the morrow, begging her to wait patiently till the time came.
St. Elerius remained all that night in prayer, and the blessed Winefride prayed with him. About daybreak the certitude of this matter was made manifest to him as he slept, and rising he came to her greatly rejoicing, and again embracing her, bade her dwell in joy and security thenceforward. Then he took her by the hand and led her into the convent, where he addressed the inmates in these words : "Attend, my beloved daughters; for what I have to say is worthy your attention. The Divine clemency has condescended to adorn and illustrate you with a great splendour. He has destined this maiden, devoted to Him, to remain and live among you, that by witnessing her life you may become more devout in His service, and her reward be given her in Heaven for the improvement she will be the means of effecting in you. This is the virgin Winefride, whose fame has often reached your ears, who to preserve her chastity inviolate despised at once the violence of the enemy and the enticements of the flatterer, and gladly suffered death to keep her virginity unharmed. Yes, this is she, the standards of whose triumph gleam throughout the Church, and in whose title of martyr all our country glories, as an honour and blessing. She alone will obtain, and is not ignorant that she will obtain, from the hand of God, the palm of a martyr and an illustrious confessor, both in one. She comes to dwell among you until the day of her death, whose merits have already reached Heaven, and for whom a place of reward among the blessed martyrs is reserved on high. Receive her joyfully, and embrace her devoutly as a celestial treasure, and in all things seek to aid and imitate her. For to this end the Highest has sent her hither, that by copying her you may lay up your merits beside hers in Heaven, and that this spot may become celebrated on her account as long as the world shall last."
Turning then towards one of them, who was his own mother and the superior of all the religious, he said to her: "To you, dear mother, I especially commit the care of this maiden, beloved of God. Follow her footsteps, imitate her deeds, follow her counsels. For know, and let it be known, to all who are seated here, that this blessed maiden has been sent hither by special command of God, on which account you are bound to show special devotion to her, and understand from this proof of it, the care which God has for your house." The holy confessor departed, and the blessed Winefride remained thenceforward with the hand maidens of God.
From that time she seemed bent on storming the very citadel of religion, and bringing every virtue to the highest perfection, as if heretofore she had been nothing but an alien to sanctity. The story of her conversion to God had already been related to her companions by the blessed Elerius, but she appeared now as if beginning her conversion over again. She practised almost perpetual abstinence, continual prayer, and humility of conversation. The other maidens accepted her as a pattern of patience and obedience, and made her their guide in all that belonged to their salvation. Every element of honour and virtue they found abundantly in her; and the veneration for her was proportionately great. The superior, and the mother of the holy confessor Elerius, whose name was Theonia, loved her with deep affection, and followed her counsels as much as her own or that of any of the other virgins in the care of the house and its consecrated inmates. Often, when speaking of her longing for the celestial kingdom, she drew tears from the mothers eyes, and would weep herself. Theonia was a woman of great authority and perfection in religion, wholly intent on works of charity and mercy; and, while she loved them all with a devotion not to be measured, she cherished the holy Winefride with glad affection and deep reverence, and did much to increase the veneration the others also bore her. St. Elerius, who served the Lord apart, with his brethren and fellow disciples, in simplicity of heart and extraordinary affliction of spirit, sometimes came to visit her, and often spoke of her to others. Also, he often spoke to her of the secrets of Heaven and sometimes of the mysteries of the Church, and found in her a complete knowledge of all that belongs to God, as well as profound good sense and wisdom in all things belonging to the necessities of exterior life. All this could not long be concealed, and, in time, the convent where she dwelt obtained wide celebrity, and was held by all men in the highest reverence. The faithful people came in troops to see the maiden who had allowed her head to be cut off for the love of Christ, and had been restored to life at the prayer of a Saint, and they loudly proclaimed the place where she dwelt to be a highly honoured and holy spot. Some of them were satisfied with seeing and speaking of her, others humbly desired to be allowed to see the mark round her neck, and this request she did not like to refuse, for fear of checking their devotion, or being herself suspected of pride. They could not keep from tears when they saw the white scar on her skin, and would return home filled with admiration and praising God for His marvels.
ONE day, the blessed Elerius entered the doors of the convent to speak to the holy virgin, Winefride, of the things of God, and their conversation turned upon the recollection of death. The Saint took the opportunity of saying something which he had often revolved in his mind.
He said: "I rejoice that God sent you to this place to lay my body in the grave, and preserve my memory after my death. I have often asked of God to send one of his servants or handmaidens here to bury me and make this place famous after my time." The blessed maiden answered to this: "It will not be so, nor is this what God has appointed. You will, indeed, commit to the earth my lady, your mother, and I shall then be living and stand by your side; then, and after a very few years, it will be your task to bury my body. Afterwards you will finish your course full of days, and being translated to your fathers, will find in the heavenly kingdom the treasures you have laid up on earth."
The holy confessor withdrew, and very soon the prediction began to be fulfilled. The blessed Theonia was seized with mortal sickness, and perceived death to be approaching. Her daughters, the virgins who had lived under her care, were profoundly affected at the approaching loss of the mother who had trained them to God's service and taught them the Divine mysteries. She consoled them, saying that such lamentations might be reasonable if a better was to be succeeded by a worse, and the rights of God were endangered by an evil succession; but where to good better succeeds, and the cause of God is in progress of advancement, they should rather accept with spiritual joy the amelioration promised them. "You ought," she said, "to bear my death patiently, since you will still have the blessed Winefride, in whom you will find all that is needed for instruction and example for your salvation. Reverence her, imitate her, follow her as a guiding star, cast upon her all your cares, not doubting that she will be in all things your helper with God, She received from the hands of her son, the holy Elerius, the life-giving Communion of the Lord's Body and Blood, and leaving this world, rendered up her spirit into the hands of the holy angels.
On his mother s death, the holy man committed the care of the convent to the blessed Winefride, who accepted it only because she feared some judgment of God if she refused. She carried her austerities, and the sufferings she inflicted on herself, to the utmost degree of endurance; but was always simple and humble in habit, and in speech so beautiful and attractive, that people of all ranks, even the highest, from all parts of Wales came to be edified with her conversation. Robbers and invaders of the property of others were struck with compunction when they saw her and heard her words, and some of them were so far converted to God as to make public confession of their crimes. No one ever spoke to her who was not better and happier for doing so. The holy Elerius often spoke of her publicly, declaring that God had appointed her for the illumination of their country, and that a virtue from on high dwelt in her. This, indeed, was the universal belief, and was attested by wonderful cures of the sick which followed her prayers.
The infirm always left her healed, the sad went away rejoicing; cares and sorrows of mind, of body, of circumstances, all seemed banished by her presence, not to return. She was so withdrawn from the love of the world that she thought the smallest luxury admitted into the house a sort of pollution; while in the care of the maidens entrusted to her charge she omitted nothing that could contribute to their spiritual welfare, and in all things showed the profoundest wisdom and discretion.
And it was while the virgin Winefride, beloved of God, was thus devoting her life to the service of the Supreme Lord of Heaven and earth, that the Lord Jesus, willing to withdraw His faithful servant from the life of labour to eternal rest, made known to her the approaching hour of her departure. The communication was made to her while she was praying in the oratory at night. She received it with the deepest joy, and did not conceal her triumph and rejoicing. She continued to watch in prayer all night and labour in charity all day. She frequently spoke of her approaching end. Her companions grieved; St. Elerius, fully sensible of the loss he was about to suffer, yet exerted himself to give her every assistance and support in her preparation for the change which awaited her.
She was taken ill with a disorder of the bowels, which occasioned her acute pain. She prayed God to take charge of her, and not leave her soul a prey to the enemy ; and, sending for Elerius, fortified herself with the Viaticum of the Lord's Body and Blood. Then, witnessing the grief of her companions, who were in dismay at their approaching loss, she said to them:
"Grieve not for my departure, my daughters, for God's mercy is removing me from present misery to the good which is highest and unchangeable. I rejoice now that I refused an earthly bridegroom, that I despised the pleasures of the world, that I determined to possess nothing of my own. I am going to Him for Whom I forsook all things, and in comparison of Whose love I counted all things earthly as nothingness and filth. I shall behold Him for ever, for Whose sake I threw away myself and all I might have possessed. Do you embrace with diligent devotion the same Lord, and keep yourselves for the celestial Bridegroom, to Whom you are betrothed and pledged. Only by His aid can you hope for safety, when your own end comes, and escape the snares of the enemy. All that carnal eyes are capable of looking upon, is slight and transitory. Care not for that which is to-day, and to-morrow is not, nor ever turn aside from the changeless good which cannot fail, in which there is peace, and safety, and joy for ever." Then, addressing herself to prayer, she laid down her spirit, to be taken up into the hands of God.
She was taken ill on the first day of November, and died on the second, having made it a request to St. Elerius that she might be interred near the body of his mother, St. Theonia. St. Elerius took care to comply with this request, and the body having been placed in the church, and the offices of religion solemnly performed, it was carried to the grave amid the lamentations of all the bystanders. The cemetery in which she was laid contains the graves of many saints and holy persons of great merit, among them the holy confessors Chebius and Senanus, of whom the former was buried at her head, the latter in the same row. They were both celebrated men, and many churches are erected in that country in their honour, in which frequent miracles have been, and still are, wrought. The blessed Theonia rests on her left hand; the names of the other occupants of the graveyard are now only known to God. For, so many holy men and women are buried in that place, that it has been found impossible to retain their names, or even their number, in memory. Large numbers of pilgrims visited the grave of St. Winefride, and numerous miraculous cures were wrought by her intercession, so that it soon became a frequented place of pilgrimage. After a few years, the blessed Elerius departed this life, full of sanctity and religion. He was buried in the church which bears his name, which is illustrated, even to this day, by many miracles.
+Saint Winefride, pray for us sinners!