13 September 2008

Saint Winifred and Saint Giles

Two important saints in the Cadfael stories are St. Winifred and St. Giles. The first book in the Cadfael series, A Morbid Taste For Bones, tells how Benedictine monks from Shrewsbury brought St. Winifred's bones from Gwytherin in Wales to Shrewsbury. The Catholic Encyclopaedia has an article on St. Winifred (aka Winefride, Wenefride). St. Winefride's Well at Holywell in Flintshire, Wales, where St. Winifred was decapitated, still attracts pilgrims seeking cures. (clip art of St. Winifred courtesy of Two Hearts Design

Prior Robert, the leader of the Shrewsbury monks looking for St. Winifred's bones in Ellis Peters' book, was a real person and he wrote up the story of the monks' expedition. His account of St. Winifred's back story was probably the source for the account in The Golden Legend, a 13th century compilation of saints' stories, which was translated by William Caxton in 1483 (not as daunting as it may sound) - St. Winifred's life. Google books has made available Philip Leigh's 1712 The Life, and Miracles of S. Wenefride. Pages 114 - 134 (small pages, only about 100 - 150 words each) are said to be a translation of Prior Robert's work, but read more like a paraphrase. A scholarly translation of Prior Robert's account was issued in 1977, the same year A Morbid Taste For Bones was published.

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The Catholic Encyclopaedia and
The Golden Legend
both also have accounts of St. Giles (aka Aegidius), the saint to whom the church in Shrewsbury Abbey's leper asylum is dedicated. The above map shows the Abbey church (A) and St. Giles's church (B) - picture here - in today's Shrewsbury. The picture below (public domain picture from wiki commons) shows a painting of an incident in the life of St. Giles, painted around 1500 by an anonymous painter now known as the Master of St. Giles, and now in London's National Gallery.

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