Monday, 2 July 2012

Holywell - a step closer to heaven

    The Shrine of St Winefride - Virgin and Martyr

Last Sunday's pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Winefride in North Wales was, as well as being a spiritual journey in the manner of all good pilgrimages, a profound and uplifting experience.

Organised by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales it attracted an estimated 400 people whom, as well as attending to their duties as pilgrims also wished to attend the Pontifical High Mass offered by 62 year old Bishop Fernando Areas Rifan, Apostolic Administrator of the Personal Apostolic Administration of St Jean Marie Vianney, from Campos, Brazil.                                                                                      
An interesting choice of celebrant as Bishop Rifan was, at one time, "separated" from Holy Mother Church and aligned with the SSPX. He and his Diocese returned to the fold (some might say that he had never left it) in or around the year 2004 and he was then subjected to cries of "traitor" from Bishop Fellay and others within the Society.
The Bishop remains a controversial figure as far as traditionalists are concerned but, after witnessing his devout manner and mellifluous voice and hearing his beautifully articulated sermon, there could be few who would doubt his loyalty to Rome and to tradition.
A great and holy man - Bishop Rifan

In a packed church and on a sanctuary jam packed with Canons, Monsignors, Priests and altar servers, the Mass began.
The Manchester Mozart Schola sang Wolfgang's Coronation Mass and it was rich and beautiful to the extreme; indeed, so much so that it actually became a distraction from the all important proceedings. But a magnificent distraction for all of that.

Mrs Linen and 3 of our group 
In his Sermon, the Bishop uttered the immortal words: "It is not our Mass it is the Lord's Mass" Another way of saying "Don't mess with this it is not within your remit". I am sure the LMS will be publishing the full text so I will not attempt to recall the full homily, suffice to say that it was brief and to the point; two essentials for a sermon that few observe.

The mini bus carrying the bulk (13 of us all told) of the Confraternity of the Holy Cross from Menevia Diocese made an arduous journey from the Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper in Cardigan to the Shrine of St Winefride in Holywell. From the West of Wales to the North.

To those unfamiliar with the geography of Wales let me say that it is not a great distance; maybe 130 or possibly, 140 miles. But the route or routes are winding and up hill and down dale and it took us the best part of 6 hours including a break for a most unhealthy intake of junk food.

Destined for greater glory - 2 deacons and 1 seminarian. Ranaldo
from Brazil and Francisco and Gustavo from Mexico

Some five or six other members of the Confraternity travelled independently so our numbers rose to just about 5% of the assembly.

After Mass we processed from the church down the hill towards the medieval holy well and the actual shrine. As we went we recited the Rosary and crammed (those of us in the forefront) into the well house where the shrine is located.
The Rosary procession to the Shrine

There, beneath the shrine we were able to sing a  hymn to St Winefride (a somewhat modern one I believe but none the worse for that) and individually venerate the relic of the holy saint.
And what pilgrimage would be
complete without  white doves?

Then, as we filed past after the veneration we were able to kneel and kiss His Lordship's ring, an act designed to cause any modernist to have an attack of the vapours.

Bishop Rifan chatting to Joe Shaw of the LMS
Some observations on the day: it was well organised by the LMS and full credit to them. It would have been good if the Mass pamphlet that was issued had carried details of the schola and some attention to proof reading would have been worthwhile, especially as "God" was misspelt. But these are niggles viewed within the full framework of the day.

All in all there cannot have been many (or any) who wound their weary way home without feeling that they had taken part in one of the Church's great events and were one step closer to heaven as a result.

I remembered all of you collectively in my prayers and intentions and, as many as my shrinking brain would allow, I remembered by name.

And thank you to Brian of Umblepie blog for the words and music to a slightly more traditional version of a hymn to St Winefride; it would be good to restore it to the hymn sheets for future pilgrimages. When I learn how to save and copy it I will reproduce it.

Afterwards, pilgrims flocked to the healing waters
of the holy well


  1. Thank you for this interesting account, and for remembering your readers in your prayers while at the shrine.

    Your post has brought back memories of a pilgrimage we made with a deanery group from the Liverpool archdiocese, back in the mid-1980s. As we processed down the road to the well we were flanked by a line of people holding placards and voicing their opposition to what they saw as idolatry. We were all very nice to them.

  2. Good old Canon Lordan and his hymn to St. Winifride!! It was a wonderful afternoon, and "mellifluous" is just the word I was looking for to describe Bishop Rifan's voice, thank you!

  3. Anthony DickinsonJuly 02, 2012 10:25 pm

    Richard, I'm a regular reader of your blog so many thanks for your very kind comments. I was in charge of the Schola that sang from the organ loft.

    Christopher - thanks for clarifying the the authorship of the first hymn we sang at the Shrine.

    Here's a bit hymn-tune trivia for anyone who's interested.

    The tune to 'Full of Faith' is a corruption (in the nicest possible sense) of the hymn tune 'My God I love Thee, not because I hope for Heaven thereby' found in the old Convent Hymn Book of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

    The second hymn at the Shrine, which sadly people didn't have the words for as it was a bit of an afterthought on my part, was 'More fairer than the vernal flowers'. I was reminded of this hymn by Richard's posting last week. We sang it to the tune called St Bernard ('All ye who seek a comfort sure') by John Richardson a one time organist of the Pro-Cathedral in Liverpool.

  4. I was working on Saturday and my wife went to the Mass in Leeds and thought it was excellent despite the six hour round trip. We set off for the Holywell Mass but had to turn back as I felt unwell. I am delighted it was such a success. Bishop Rifan is a fine and humble man.
    Patrick Cannon

  5. St. Winefride, ora pro nos!

    - Mack in Texas

  6. Anthony - the singing was superb. Many thanks.

    Thanks, too, for the information about the hymn tune. It sounded very familiar to me on Sunday (except the last 2 lines - couldn't quite work them out). However, having dug out my old SND Hymn Book, I can now see the original verison -though I still can't quite work out the last two lines. It was good, however, to look again at that lovely old hymnal.

  7. Thank you all for your kind comments.
    And, especially to Anthony who has cleared up many questions regarding the music on the day and with regard to the "old" hymn to St Winefride.
    I shall practice singing it to "All ye who seek a comfort sure".
    I don't think that I praised the choir quite enough in my post. The singing was riveting and glorious.

  8. I was born in Holywell over 70 years ago and the hymn we sang on Sunday 'Full of faith...' was the hymn we always sang including my parents before me. Last time I was at a pilgrimage they sang the other hymn which would have been totally unfamiliar to parishioners of Holywell. Incidently the choir and most of the congregation did not sing the penultimate line of the chorus correctly.

  9. Anthony DickinsonJuly 03, 2012 10:00 pm

    Thanks again Richard for your kind comments. I'm glad all the music was well received.

    Thanks Aparry for your comments.

    In defence of the organist, choir and congregation on Sunday, we sang the music as it was written down and sent to me.

    Was that always the tune used for 'Full of Faith'? Sorry about the other hymn 'More fairer than the vernal flowers' and the congregation not having the words - my fault as I wanted to ensure there was as much music as necessary to cover the verneration of the Relic. It was penned by the wonderful Fr Edward Caswall (priest of the Birmingham Oratory and great friend of Blessed John Henry Newman). I gave the choir two options (as the tune in the Westminster Hymn Book was perfectly nice but completely unmemorable). The two options were a good Welsh 18th century hymntune called 'Bangor' and the one they actually chose to sing which was 'St Bernard'. Perhaps if the congregation had had the words they would have joined in lustily - as the hymn 'All ye who seek a comfort sure' should generally be well known by traditional Catholics.

    Having read the words to 'Full of Faith 'they struck me as being more 'modern' than you indicate. Have they perhaps been modernised over the years? I'm always interestedto hear of the provenance of unusual hymns.

    It's really interesting to note how music can 'go wrong' over time. One only need to look at the tune 'Stella' better known as Hail! Queen of Heaven to see a fine example of a lovely tune being mauled by well-meaning congregations over the years. Then over-awed music editors fix the tune to fit the congregation's interpretation.

    Sorry, I'm a bit of an old hymn geek! lol!