Tuesday, January 03, 2006

January 3, 2006: Feasts of Saint Winefride and of the Holy Name of Jesus

Once again, two for the price of one.

And for Winefride alone, I find six different spellings: Winefride, Winifred, Gwenfrewi, Gwenfrewy, Guinevere, and Guinevra. So, this is a really good deal!

I've borrowed the image of Saint Winefride (ca. 600 - November 3, 660) from Two Hearts Design, which provides free clipart for people like me -- and not just "like me" but even for me! Not that I'm mentioned personally...

Despite appearances, Saint Winefride was no giantess and was briefly even shorter by a head:
Winifred was the victim of attempted rape by Prince Caradog. Escaping, Winifred fled towards Beuno's church; but Prince Caradog caught her on the hillside, and cut off her head. Beuno cursed the unrepentant Caradog, who melted away. Then he replaced Winifred's head, prayed over her -- and the girl was restored to life.

According to another telling of the story, Beuno was Winefride's maternal aunt, and Caradog -- great name for a villain -- was a chieftain of Hawarden.

Saints don't achieve sainthood without a miracle, and Winefride is no exception:

Where her head fell, legend says, a spring of healing water broke forth. Here, after her resurrection, Winifred sat with Beuno on the stone still called by his name. Here he told her that anyone seeking help through her prayers at that spot would find it. And from that day to this, people have visited St Winifred's holy well on pilgrimage.

Saint Winefride's Well can be seen -- in all its monumental glory -- within the Welsh town Holywell, in Flintshire.

As for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, its fixed date has only recently been set, when Pope John Paul II officially decided in 2002 that the feast should be observed on January 3. Prior to that, it was a movable feast held on the Sunday between New Year's Day and the Epiphany except for years with no Sunday between those dates, when January 2 was substituted.

This feast, as one might surmise, commemorates the naming of the baby Jesus. Back when it was still movable, this feast inspired a devout Mexican woman named María Concepción Cabrera de Armida (1862-1937), but called Conchita, to a passionate attachment:

By dint of many a plea, I got my director's permission to engrave the initials on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 14, 1894.... I cut on my bosom in large letters: J.H.S. No sooner had I done this than I felt a supernatural force which threw me, face down, on the floor, my eyes filled with tears and a burning flame within my heart. Vehemently and zealously I then asked the Lord for the salvation of souls: Jesus, Savior of souls, save them, save them!

As her biographer, Marie-Michel Philipon, dryly observes, "Saints are at times more admirable than imitable."

Let's avoid life's sharp edges but raise three glasses for the reluctant Winefride, the infant Jesus, and the passionate Conchita.


At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holywell may be intended by the "Gawain" poet, in the (contextually) significantly altered form of "Holy Hede" (SGGK 700) -- as I think was pointed out by Gollancz in his Early English Text Society edition, although I don't have it accessible.

The "translation" of the saint's relics to Salisbury figures in the novel in which Ellis Peters introduced the medieval detectgive Brother Cadfael to the world, "A Morbid Taste For Bones" (1977). The saint's miracles feature in several of the later volumes, although I'll refrain from specifying which for fear of "spoilers."

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Ian, for the Gawain connection. I'll bring that in next time that I teach Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

I had seen the references to the Peters novels as I was websurfing for information on this saint. If they're worth reading (and you seem to endorse them, implicitly), then I'll try to get copies.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the Cadfael novels to be great fun. And, to this usually nit-picking English major, mostly pretty-well researched. Although I could probably do an essay on the mostly minor errors spread over the twenty-one volumes (including a collection of short stories).

Or another, perhaps more interesting, one on the various anachronisms imposed just by using modern language about the Middle Ages, instead of actual Middle English, Anglo-Norman French, Medieval Welsh, etc., which would certainly have limited their audience.

They are set mainly during the reign (such as it was) of King Stephen. So far as I could tell, and I tried to check, the tricky and often obscure chronology for the main historical events mentioned is about right, or at least not obviously wrong.

Alas, the author's favorite plot devices get used to excess. Some of them also show up in the same author's "A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury" (1972; under her real name of Edith Pargeter), otherwise a very good, and very non-Shakespearean, look at Hotspur, King Henry, and Prince Hal. I was reminded a bit of E.R. Eddison; which from me is a considerable compliment, although it may well put some people off.


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