The holy and healing waters of Sardinia an overview
This year’s monthly blog post theme will be Sardinian healing and holy waters and as so as an introduction to that theme, this is way of an overview. Perhaps no place in Europe does the clear relationship between the ancient worship of water all the way up to the Spa treatment be seen as a continuous flow and furthermore clear patterns of development can be seen.
Since ages the insufficient supply of water was one of the main problems of Sardinia. For the Nuragic civilization, which has developed in Bronze Age on base of the local Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures, the cult of water became one of the most important elements of religion. This resulted in construction of sophisticated monuments, such as well temples and sacred springs. There are known to be around 40 well temples on the island dating from that of Pozzo Sacro sa Testa around 1300 BC to later Iron age ones such as Pozzo Sacro Santa Cristina from 900 BC. Styles differ by they all consist of an atrium or vestibule (oval or rectangular) where offerings were made and ceremonies conducted and then stairs down to a tholos chamber which contained the sacred well.
These wells appear to have been re-developed by subsequent invaders – the Greek and Punic influence can be seen and at some sites Roman finds were discovered. The Romans influence on the island, slighter perhaps than elsewhere, typifies the next stage: the development of hot baths. The most substantial being those at Fordongianus where the baths and springs can still be seen.
No place in the whole of Europe can the ages of water worship be seen than in the underground chamber beneath San Salvatore church, where a Nuragic water shrine has been developed by every cultural invader of the island. The crowning of a church above this pre-historic holy site is typical of the island’s approach to Christianising springs. The capital of the island is one of the few places where Christian holy wells can be found in a number such as a spring associated with hypogeum. Christianity has developed around a number of nuragic well sites – Paulilatino in particular where festivals are associated with May suggesting an ancient origin.
Some springs, fall between the next two forms – being simple medicinal springs utilised locally by people for healing purposes but never fully developed, and example being Siete Fuentes di San Leonardo. Such springs were developed into more complex and commercial spas. This spa movement, called Therme on the island developed as elsewhere either developing upon under sites such as that of Terme de Sardegne based on the same spring on which the Roman bath houses or newly discovered ones. This is most vibrantly shown by that of Fordin…where an 18th century bath house can be seen a few yards from the Roman site and a new Spa complex developed within the town. The most famed being the Terme de Sardara established in 1895. Spas are a very popular activity in Sardinia and show how water still has a vital healing role on the Island…one dating back 4000 years or so.
Every month I will focus in more detail on a Sardinian site or theme…February will look at Paulilitano’s Santa Cristina Pozzo.