Saint Winefride, the pre-Conquest saint, seems to have had a special place in Margaret Rope’s heart. Winefride was murdered as a woman by an amorous man she’d rejected; she was one the patron saints of Shrewsbury, Marga’s home town; and she was associated with healing (Marga’s father was a doctor, as was her brother, and her sisters Monica and Irene both were in nursing roles in the family’s experience of the Great War). Winefride also in later life became a nun (after being miraculously brought back to life) – as did Marga.
Only sixty miles from Shrewsbury, across the border in Wales, is Winefride’s shrine, Holywell, a place of reputed healing miracles. Marga depicted the site, so it’s possible she visited it.
Three major windows by Margaret show Winefride: in the Great West Window at Shrewsbury (1910) – see pic right; at Newport RC Church in Shropshire (1916); and at Holy Name in Oxton, near Liverpool (1931). The first two are vibrant and engrossing works, while the last is a little lifeless (which is odd, as Margaret’s other windows in Oxton are among her best).
Researcher Roger Hall now examines at the St Winefride window in Newport, the so-called ‘Welsh window’. Margaret’s windows are full of very exact and carefully placed details, which are missed by many of us. Roger has made it his work to find and point out those details. .
The Welsh Window
Winefride, or Gwenfrewi in her native Welsh, a 7th century saint, is a patron of Shrewsbury town and the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury, and of its Cathedral.
Her legend goes thus: having been attacked & beheaded, she was immediately restored to life by St Beuno; the site of this scene, Holywell (in Welsh Treffynnon) is a place of pilgrimage in north Wales to this day.
Winefride went on to become an abbess.
In this small, simple church, there are a number of large windows by Margaret and this window (right), dated 1916, is one of a series here by her.
In it, Winefride is holding her abbess’s staff, but instead of showing her in a nun’s habit the artist has dressed her in the fine clothes she wore at the time of the miracle.
Her headscarf is secured by a brooch bearing a Celtic cross and her cloak is decorated in a sunflower design. In her left hand is a martyr’s palm, and just behind her is a shield bearing a red dragon and leeks, symbols of Wales.
The richly coloured backdrop includes the Shropshire hills, with the distinctive conical shape of Caer Caradoc in the centre (a subtle reference to Caradoc, the name of her would-be killer).
Around Winefride’s neck is a faint scar, a reminder that she was beheaded and brought back to life and at her feet is the miraculous spring that appeared as her blood fell on the spot.
At the apex of the window are the crown and palms of martyrdom. Just below are a lily, sign of her purity, and a rose. As the rose is shown in outline we cannot tell whether it is red or white: red would symbolise martyrdom, white purity. Either would be appropriate.
There are also scenes recalling other parts of Winefride’s legend. These are in the small features placed in the ‘frame’ of the glass, and can hardly be seen by the naked eye.
One such features shows Beuno, now living by the sea, who asked her to send him a new cloak. She placed it on the spring, and it carried on the waters to Beuno, who picked it up later, perfectly dry, on his seashore.
A child holds a can in which she will collect water from the well: in her other hand is a doll dressed in traditional Welsh costume, one of the little details with which Margaret Rope rewards the careful observer. We see a child whose foot has been healed; the bandage which was around her foot before lies on the floor.
A fuller version of Roger’s description, and more photos of the windows that show St Winefride, can be found on the Marga Works website – thanks to Arthur Rope for permitting the use for this article.
NB: Margaret seems always to give the Welsh-style spelling of the saint’s name, i.e. Winefride. In English, the name is most often spelt Winifred.
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