Another stop on my road trip yesterday with Afnan and Scott was the chapel and holy well of St Winifred, Holywell. Scott’s going to be considering the depositional/inscribing practices here in relation to other heritage sites.
This is a fascinating sacred place, well over a thousand years old. The architecture is a detailed story I won’t go into, but the appearance of the site owes much to the late 15th-century chapel commissioned by Lady Margaret Beaufort.
In a previous post, I’ve reviewed the space as it is today, and in particular I focused on the material cultures of commemorating cures at the location, including memorial benches, flowers, candles, and even crutches left by pilgrims.
One particular aspect is the historic graffiti populating the walls of the well, some of it going back to the 17th and 18th century, but much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
What I hadn’t fully paid close attention to, or noticed (4 years ago), was the scale of contemporary graffiti at the site. Not only around the well, and inspired by the historic graffiti, but also in the side-chapel, pilgrims and tourists are leaving their mark.
From the lowest parts of the walls up to the height of a full adult stretching upwards, the walls are covered with light graffiti behind and around doorways, windows and statues.
I was particularly struck to see that pen was a medium for marking, as well as incised marks. Moreover, I was fascinated to see incised messages were not only being deployed inside the chapel on every wall, but also on the statue of the Virgin Mary and Child.
It wasn’t just private internal sacred spaces that were being marked. In addition, the statue of St Winifred in the grounds is also heavily incised.
Are these the names of visitors seeking healing or commemorating their healing. Do they also include the names of the dead? Are they simply marks of tourists rather than pilgrims? Is there a clear difference?
Presumably we are looking at individuals who are remembering loved ones, as well as those commemorating their act of pilgrimage or tourism. Presumably for a fraction, people are simply copying the actions of those who have inscribed or penned their names before them, without any specific thought let alone faith.
What is striking is that, like Bryn Celli Ddu, this is a Cadw-stewarded site where contemporary depositional and inscribing practices are facilitated/tolerated as an integral part of their present-day use by visitors with a range of secular and sacred purposes.