At the end of the summer, I posted about the staggering amount of graffiti inscribed and written onto the walls of the chapel adjacent to the historic holy well of St Winifride, Holywell, Flintshire. This is one of the most long-lasting Catholic places of pilgrimage and devotion to survive the Reformation in Wales. I discussed the deep-time tradition of inscription as part of the votive practices at the site, but how it had gotten out of control in its volume and character. Some might be devotional inscriptions, recording pilgrimages and aspirations for healing, but many others looked like crude daubings emulating that tradition. Particularly striking was how these messages were not only in pen as well as carved, they were on the statue of the Virgin Mary and child, as well as on the walls of the chapel’s interior.
On a recent visit, I noted two related developments:
- while some of the inscribed graffiti can still be seen, the vast amount of it has been carefully and systematically cleaned away;
- a new warning sign and cameras guard the site via surveillance from further perpetrators leaving their mark.
At one level, I hope this curbs the extent of the graffiti at this Cadw-managed site. Yet it won’t prevent the temptation of visitors, given that the well’s architecture is replete with historic graffiti from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as well as memorial benches and inscriptions of the 20th century too. In other words, the historical precedent has been set solidly through the centuries for this kind of physical intervention at sites of pilgrimage.