Monthly Archives: December 2012
A well for Christmas-The Jesus well of Minver Cornwall
Merry Christmas readers. For this time of year, what more appropriate well to discuss than Jesus Well at Minver, Cornwall? The spring head is covered by a quaint sandstone building with a slate roof and surrounded by a small wall to prevent low flying golf balls hitting it no doubt as it lies in a golf course. According to Hope (1893) the spring was visited by children suffering from whopping-cough, Quiller-Couch adding that children were dipped in the water. Quiller-Couch (1894) tells us that:
“People came from long distances to pay their devotions and use the waters, which were celebrated for many cures, and for the evils which befell scoffing unbelievers. Its virtues continued till late years. No longer ago than 1867, Mary Cranwell….who for a considerable period had suffered severely from erysipelas, and could obtain no relief from medical treatment, fully believing, as she stated to the author, from the repute of the well, that if she bathed in the water with faith she would be cured of her disease, went to the place, and kneeling beside the well recited the Litany to the Holy Name of Jesus, and bathed the diseased parts in the waters. She received relief from the first application; and repeating it the prescribed number of three times, at intervals, she became perfectly whole, and has never since suffered from the same malady.”
A strange custom.
Quiller-couch (1894) notes a strange custom where:
“At some wells a cross of rushes or straw is floated on the surface of the water, to sink or swim as Fate decides. Coins were also left on a niche in the well, or cast into its waters as an offering; this custom seems to have entirely disappeared in Cornwall at least, although at one well, Jesus Well, St. Minver, it was a distinctly remembered practice: it was probably a much older custom than the dropping in of pins; for setting aside the fact that pins were not in use until the sixteenth century, there is never any mention in the old accounts of the skewers of wood or bone of former days being among the offerings to the naiad.”
It was apparently named after a nearby lost chapel. Maclean, in his History of Trigg Minor, speaks of the old chapel, Jesus Chapel, which formerly stood not far from the well. It was described as:
“Upon the manor of Penmayne, about half a mile north of Rock, on the left of the road leading to St. Minver Church, is an ancient enclosed tenement, containing about four acres, called Chapel. A small chapel existed here until recent times. Mr. Sandys, writing in 1812, states that he had seen pieces of a Gothic window on the spot; but no remains are now to be found.” However, why this should be named after Jesus is unclear, unless its foundation was very ancient, and does as some new age antiquarians will let us believe dates from when Jesus ‘walked upon England’s pleasant land”.
Is it possible that the origins of the spring would be associated with Jesus, as local legend states an unknown pilgrim saint travelling over the dunes struck the ground with his staff and water arose. However this more probably St Enodoc. The well today Quiller-Couch (1894) states that:
“The well has fallen somewhat to decay during the last ten or twenty years; the archway has disappeared, as has also the front part of the roof, otherwise it looks much the same. Cattle were in the field in which the well stands, and had trampled down the ground around the building. It is about five feet square, and the interior is lined with beautiful ferns.”
Fortunately the well was restored and is surrounded by a small wall and the cows replaced by golf buggies. A stone slate set into the threshold reads: “Jesus Well, Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink Timor domini fons vitae.” Hopefully the spring will continue to be a rest spot for pilgrims for many centuries to come.
The legend of the Hermit’s well of Dale Abbey
Dale Abbey is a fascinating little village, with its Abbey ruins; half church-half house (originally a chapel to the abbey) and rock cut Hermitage in the woods. Less well known, but arguable the reason for the community is the Hermit’s Well.First noted in 1350 in association with the legend of the foundation of the Abbey, Hope (1893) notes it was curative and was a wishing well; being visited on Good Friday, between twelve and three o’clock, water being drunk three times.
A simple and then a more complex legend
Hope gives two versions of the legend taken from the Chronicle of Thomas de Musca quoted in Glover’s history of Derbyshire:
“A hermit once going through Deep Dale being very thirsty, and for a time not able to find any water, at last came upon a stream, which he followed up to the place where it rose; here he dug a well, returned thanks to the Almighty, and blessed it, saying it, should be holy for evermore, and be a cure for all ills. Another version is that the famous Hermit of Deep Dale, who lived in the Hermitage which is close by the well, discovered this spring and dug the well, which never dries up, nor does the water diminish in quantity, however dry the season and blessed it.”
In another version of the story, Hope (1893) notes:
“There was a baker in Derby, in the street which is called after the name of St. Mary. At that period the church of the Blessed Virgin at Derby was at the head of a large parish, and had under its authority a church de onere and a chapel. And this baker, otherwise called Cornelius, was a religious man, fearing God, and, moreover, so wholly occupied in good works and the bestowing of alms, that whatsoever remained to him on every seventh day beyond what had been required for the food and clothing of himself and his, and the needful things of his house, he would on the Sabbath day take to the church of St. Mary, and give to the poor for the love of God, and of the Holy Virgin. It happened on a certain day in autumn, when he had resigned himself to repose at the hour of noon, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in his sleep, saying, “Acceptable in the eyes of my Son, and of me are the alms thou hast bestowed. But now, if thou art willing to be made perfect, leave all that thou hast, and go to Depedale where thou shalt serve my Son and me in solitude; and when thou shalt happily have terminated thy course thou shalt inherit the kingdom of love, joy, and eternal bliss which God has prepared for them who love Him. The man, awakening, perceived the divine goodness which had been done for his sake; and, giving thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin, his encourager, he straightway went forth without speaking a word to anyone. Having turned his steps towards the east, it befel him, as he was passing through the middle of the village of Stanley, he heard a woman say to a girl, ”Take our calves with you, drive them as far as Depedale, and make haste back.” Having heard this, the man, admiring the favour of God, and believing that this word had been spoken in grace, a, it were, to bin’, was astonished, and approached near, and said, “Good woman, tell me, where is Depedale?” She replied, “Go with this maiden, and she, if you desire it, will show you the place. When he arrived there, he found that the place was marshy, and of fearful aspect, far distant from any habitation of man. Then directing his steps to the south-east of the place, he cut for himself, in the side of the mountain, in the rock, a very small dwelling, and an altar towards the south, which hath been preserved to this day; and there he served God, day and night, in hunger and thirst, in cold and in meditation.
And it came to pass that the old designing enemy of mankind, beholding this disciple of Christ flourishing with the different flowers of the virtues, began to envy him, as he envies other holy men, sending frequently amidst his cogitations the vanities of the world, the bitterness of his existence, the solitariness of his situation, and the various troubles of the desert. But the aforesaid man of God, conscious of the venom of the crooked serpent, did, by continual prayer, repeated fastings, and holy meditations, cast forth, through the grace of God, all his temptations. Whereupon the enemy rose upon him in all his might, both secretly and openly waging with him a visible conflict. And while the assaults of his foe became day by day more grievous, he had to sustain a very great want of water. Wandering about the neighbouring places, he discovered a spring in a valley not far from his dwelling, towards the west, and near unto it he made for himself a cottage, and built an oratory in honour of God and the Blessed Virgin. There, wearing away the sufferings of his life, laudably, in the service of God, he departed happily to God, from out of the prison-house of the body.”
The well still exists. It appears to be in a direct line with the cave, found high in the woods. The well lies within the private garden of Church house, although it can be easily seen in the winter from the field in which the footpath below the church passes through, as well from the church yard. The well is a delightfully rustic one and certainly contains old stonework if not from the hermit’s time than the period of the Abbey. It is an oval structure with eight stones around the mouth, a three foot rectangular stone covers half of the well and has a semi-circular cut placed in the middle. Mossy steps lead from the higher end of the garden into the little dell where the well arises. The well has been dressed in the early 2000s but has now disappeared into obscurity. Indeed, some believe that it is does not exist in the first place…
Another well legend
There is another well noted here with folklore associations. This is the Abbey Well where the treasure of the abbey was hidden before the King’s men came at the time of the Reformation. This is a common folklore motif and may indeed have basis in truth; deep wells would be a good place to hid items. Some folklorists state that the tales suggest the giving of votive offerings. Whichever the origin, the well was filled in during the Second World War.
Taken and amended from Holy wells and healing springs of Derbyshire
Herefordshire field trip: Some holy and notable wells of the county.
St Edith’s Well, Stoke Edith
This is a substantial spring head arising in a square pool and beside a niche and then flowing into a large brick-lined bathing pool. Over the whole structure is a stone arch. The spring was said to have been formed when the Saxon saint, the daughter of King Edgar, was carrying water from a nearby brook to mix with the mortar so that the church could be built, but became exhausted, prayed for water and the spring arose. The pool was used for healing, although this did not stop the Lady of the Manor, Emily Foley, installing a grill inside the arch preventing locals using it. However this grill is now open, although it would be a bit of a squeeze, as only part of the grill fully opens.
Higgin’s Well, Little Birch
In what could be described as the muddiest lane in England, well it was when I visited, the reason for the mud is easily found being the substantial Higgin’s Well. The brick work of the structure dates from the early 19th century with some improvements such as the creation of a large pool as an animal trough for Victoria’s diamond jubilee, although this structure does mean now it is very difficult to get the water if you are not an animal. Perhaps this was the intention; as the foundation of the well enshrine the landowners attempt to stop people taking the waters. It is said that the spring was originally further up the hill, but Higgins the land owner filled it to stop locals who crossed his land to reach it. As a result the spring forced itself through the floor of his house! As a result Higgins established a well at the bottom of the hill as a compromise.
Holy Well, Garway
This is a small spring, dried when visited, just outside the south-east corner of the churchyard. When it flows the water flows through a spout into a small rectangular pool. Beside is a niche perhaps where offerings or a saint was placed. The site is associated with a Templar church, but whether they utilised it is unclear.
The Holy Well, Kenchester
The National Trust gardens of the Weir hide an interesting anomaly, a small spring head surrounded by a series of circular steps down. Said to be a holy well by some authorities, it was filled in by the Bishop of Hereford, however others believe it to be a Roman water shrine.
A colourful legend tells that a Roman soldier who had an ancient Briton lover, this lover misconstrued a visit from on order to a ‘lady’ and threw herself into the river. He went to save her and was himself drowned. It is said that every year they haunt the well and that the well fills with their tears, and if collected the water would have special properties for lovers.
Is it a holy well? It’s not clear, the fact that the site lies in a landscape garden suggests it is folly although there was a Roman villa. Local accounts state it was rediscovered in the 1891 drought, whilst searching for a water supply.
St. Ann’s Well, Aconbury
This is a delightful well to finish our survey. Found in a copse in a small field. It arises in a small medieval structure which enclosures a small pool, being tanked, the flow can change and when I visited it was rather dry. I have included this site in my January entry this year, as its water said to be good for eyes, where visited on Twelfth night or New years day, when it was thought to be more powerful.