Monthly Archives: October 2015
In my regular posts this year on the incredible prehistoric sacred spring history of Sardinia, I have referred to votive offerings the bronzetti and other votive offerings. I thought it would be worth a brief post examining these structures.
The range of votive offerings
A votive offering is an object given to a religious site for ritual purpose in hope of some intercession from a spiritual figure.
At thirty three pozzo sacro temple sites votive objects have been found out of seventy-five known sites. Of course all sites could have had such deposits and were lost as the sites were either robbed or converted to other uses. What is interested is the range of objects, some appear to have a direct link to the temple others more circumstantially linked. Many are linked to a cult usage of the site and probably represent worship at the site. Others appear are presumably linked to economic concerns, such as those upholding bread – although this could be considered sacred bread – or private or even military concerns. In many ways these objects reflect similar themes to those in British sites. However the bronzetti are the most curious.
What is a bronzetti?
Around 500 of these curious figures have been excavated. They are found in association with a number of sites across Sardinia, but particularly the Pozzo Sacro. The bronzetti are small bronze statuettes which greatly vary greatly in their appearance using being around 40 cm high but representing animals, ships and divinities. They were made via lost wax casting, a technique used by a number of ancient civilizations.
How were they found?
The bronzettis are associated with Bronze Age and early Iron Age sites, the Nuragic culture, dating from the ninth century BC and the sixth century BC, particularly the pozzo sacro and the megaron temples.
What were they for?
Unfortunately the Nuragic community left no written record so the usage of these votive objects can only be surmised. Niches are found in a number of pozzos and it is thought such figures were placed in these – similar to the placing of deities and saints in niches in modern religions. One of the most curious is that of Sa Testa, a wooden figure, perhaps the precursor of the bronzetti and similar in ways to the Dagenham idol in some ways. One particularly common bronzetti is a cloaked figure representing, it is thought, a priest. Alternatively the figure may represent a spirit of the spring.
Bulls are also found at sites. Horned creatures resonate around the prehistoric civilizations of the Mediterranean and the Nuragic communities were no different. A bull figure is associated with Predio Canopoli. The goat as noted at Sa sedda sos carros was clearly a sacred animal and indeed bronzetti showing a lamb being carried on a person’s back such as Santa Vittoria or lead on a leash at Serra Niedda do indicate animals being prepared for slaughter. These finds appear to link to the idea of animal sacrifice and indeed burnt bone fragments have been found at a number of Nuragic pozzo sacro sites.
Ships laden with soldiers are widely found as bronzetti figures and may have been given to ask for success in local conflicts or otherwise may represent the passing of the congregation into a watery afterlife. Perhaps the most curious is the finding of weapons and everyday objects. Weapons may have been deposited like those found in British sacred sites such as those inserted into the top of Su Tempiesu coping stones. However, the finding of some objects is more problematic. Such as stone hammers. Were they accidentally dropped by the masons of the well or given there to say thanks and offer protection to the structure? It is curiosities like this which make Sardinia’s sacred spring sites a fascinating subject.
Some excellent photos on this site and brilliant information on Sardinia generally http://www.neroargento.com/page_galle/bronzetti_gallery.htm
Compared to Essex and Norfolk the study of mineral springs and their associated phenomena have been less covered in the Suffolk. Unlike Essex, there does appear to be a paucity. A consequence of poor research or geology?
Like adjoining counties, Suffolk does have some springs which are simply described as mineral springs, such as Elmsett’s Dropping Well which issued out of limestone rock, and producing fibrous crystallizations was said to possess ‘healing virtue for certain complaints’. Halesworth was unnamed but said to be good for eyes and that at Cranmore Green, was so hard it has been blamed for causing arthritis. None of these springs had a history of organised exploitation. As far as I have discovered only one spring was recorded as being chalybeate, that once at Claire priory. The tendency to have iron bearing water is however very common in Essex by comparision.
It does not appear until 1700, that a serious attempt was undertaken to develop a spa. This was at Bungay which was described by spa promoter John Kelly as:
:” …amply supplied with excellent water from numerous springs, some of which we said to possess medicinal properties. ”
The first site to be developed was a chalybeate spring in the grounds of Bigod’s castle. However, Bungay’s first attempt to develop proper facilities, John Kelly’s bathhouse lay over the border in Norfolk in the village of Earsham. Writing a promotion pamphlet ‘An Essay on Hot and Cold Bathing’ he said of the town and spa facilities,:
“Those lovely hills, which incircle the flowery plain, are variegated with all that can ravish the astonished sight. They arise from the winding mazes of the river Waveney, enriched with the utmost variety the watry element is capable of producing. Upon the neck of this peninsula, the castle and town of Bungay, (now startled at its approaching grandeur,) is situated on a pleasing ascent to view the pride of nature on the other side, which the goddesses have chose for their earthly paradise; where the sun, at its first appearance, makes a kindly visit to a steep and fertile vineyard, richly stored with the choicest plants from Burgundy, Champaigne, Provence, and whatever the East can furnish us with. Near the bottom of this is placed the grotto, or bath itself, beautified on one side with oziers, groves, and meadows; on the other with gardens, fruits, shady walks, and all the decorations of a rural innocence. The building is designedly plain and neat; because the least attempt of artful magnificence would, by alluring the eyes of strangers, deprive them of those profuse pleasures which nature has already provided. As to the bathing, there is a mixture of all that England, Paris, or Rome could ever boast of:—no one is refused a kind reception: honour and generosity reigns throughout the whole; the trophies of the poor invite the rich, and their more dazzling assemblies compel the former.”
Sadly the scheme was not fruitful despite the platitudes and no evidence can be found of the town’s spa heritage today.
Seaside towns which appealed to the healthy idea of sea bathing as well attempted to develop spa springs to varying successes. At Lowerstoft one was to be found at the Sparrow Nest, however it was to Ipswich that the greatest attempt appears to have been made. An advert in 1720s records:
“IPSWICH SPAW WATERS
Experimentally found to be good in the gravel of the kidneys, obstructions in the liver, spleen &c. Hectic fevers, the scurvy, violent vomiting, lost appetite, the jaundice, King’s-Evil, salt and hot humours in blood, pains in stomach, frequent spitting of blood, or bleeding at the nose, diarrhoea or blood fluxes. Sold at two pence per flask or quart, or each time of drinking what you will in the morning. By me, JONATHAN ELMER, living on St Margaret’s Green, Ipswich.”
“Ipswich Journal ”The Ipswich Spaw Waters is now opened by Mrs Martha Coward, and Attendance will be given every Morning at the Bath on St Margaret’s Green, from 6 to 9 at One Penny per Morning, and Two Pence for each Falk carried off.”
Around about the 1810s, reports are made of the discovery of a brick arched spring in St. George’s Lane whose water had such a foul taste it was thought to be medicinal. To ensure it was tested by three local doctors who analysis suggested it was equal to Bath. A M.D of Bury St Edmunds favourably also compares them to the German Spas as well as common comparison Tunbridge Wells. Furthermore, in Clarke’s 1830 History of Ipswich records another near the Shears Pub which was never known to freeze and analysis in London suggested its content of Iron sulphate, Iron carbonate and Sulphurated hydrogen could be utilised.
Sadly despite a promising start and some suitable extraneous facilities, the town’s urban growth and remoteness compared to other sites meant its spa aspirations disappeared and nothing remains. This means that Felixstowe has the only surviving mineral spring in the county. The Dripping Well, located in the Spa Gardens were described by the Felixstow Town guide that that its waters were good for ‘depression, nervous prostration and over-work’ and they resembled those the waters of Baden-Baden. A Spa Pavillion was built and still exists and used a theatre facility. One can still parade around the Pulmanite gardens around where the Dripping Well exist, as does the pump tap in the Pavillion, although taking the water is not encouraged.
Whilst researching for my Holy Wells and Healing Springs of Warwickshire there as in many counties a few wells which question marks are placed over. The Wikipedia entry concerning the village states it all:
“Berkswell’s toponym is derived from the Berks Well, a 16 ft (5 m) square, stone-walled water well just outside the churchyard. It is said to have been used for baptisms by immersion and can still be seen today.”
That all too familiar term now thanks to Wikipedia – citation needed – is what I often want to cry out when discussing many assumed and often famed holy and healing waters, who’s histories and holiness can be a murky as their waters. Berkswell’s well is a classic example of an assumed holy well, often cited in books and articles on the subject and taken for granted as one. This one, being a large stone tank about five feet deep enclosed by a 15 feet by 15 feet stone wall, appears to be a classic baptismal well and such amongst many neo-pagans and Earth mystery enthusiasts it is one…but is it?
Who’s well is it anyhow?
The well is certainly an old one if the Domesday is anything of an indication. Noted as Berchewelle, W.H. Duigan (1912) in his Place-names of Warwickshire states that it is Beorcoles well or Beorcol’s spring, the Beorcol(e) in question we assume is a Saxon landowner. However it could equally be berc for birch. But does that really matter? As the name is a secular one it gives little clue to the origins.
However, it is not the neo-pagan and Earth Mystery speculators who are the only ones the Parish Church of Berkswell unequivocally quotes:
“The Christian faith came to Berkswell when the village was just a cluster of huts gathered round a well, in the great Forest of Arden – which, in the centuries before the Norman Conquest, covered a large part of Warwickshire.
The well remains to this day, outside the churchyard gate, and it is here that the monks, who brought the faith from Lichfield, would have baptised their converts. We think that the name of the village derives from that of the Saxon landowner, Bercul. The present preaching cross, just inside the churchyard, a medieval replacement of an earlier, perhaps even dating back to Bercul’s conversion in the 8th century.”
Interestingly it is noted that the church even claim that the well’s founder (for want of a better term) was even baptised in it – a big leap of faith. The other claims is the piece again I have been unable to ascertain.
Location is the obvious factor in considering this site to be more than a village springhead. It lies a few yards from the churchyard of the parish church of St John the Baptist. Such a large springhead would have not only provided a valuable drinking source but as the church website notes an ideal place for baptism. The church itself may provide further physical and etymological based evidence. The latter is perhaps a little glib, but naming a church after the famous biblical Baptist may be a considerable indication or else the source of the mistake. The best evidence for its significance lies below the church itself, the crypt. This is the gem in the village, a beautifully preserved Norman crypt. Such a crypt in a small village church indicates a greater importance for the community and it was likely to be a shrine church and the church a minster. The topographer John Leland believed that the 8th century Bishop of Worcester, St Milred was buried there. Sadly there is no corroborate evidence but this would although in a Jethro Cossins and the Rector H. W. Watson said they discovered Saxon stone work, possibly the base of a tomb, when digging in the crypt. Other Saxon fragments have been found subsequently indicating that there was a church here in Saxon periods when the well was named. It should be noted that there have also been traditions about the water being good for eyes but that is no firm evidence either way of course.
However if this was the case why does the well have a secular name? Documentary evidence may reveal who the name. A Bercul is noted in a 748AD document drawn up by Mercian King Ethalbald which granted the church indemnity from any services or taxation. So the name was a significant one in region Berkswell would lay. Yet the two are not necessary the same. Examining the structure of the well a plaque reading:
“restored by subscription”
The date of 1831 suggests that the present structure is no older and such a design would have had a considerable use for the villagers being ideal to wash clothes in. Certainly it would be too late for any baptism use, certainly linked to the parish church. If any baptism was undertaken it may have disrupted the real domestic use and would have been by non-conformists. However, again there is no record of such non-conformist use in the parish. So we draw a blank. Despite this I feel that the well is too significant a springhead to have not been utilised by the church. However, we may never really know – that does not matter for many well enthusiasts and peering into these bright bubbling waters it is easy to feel the natural sacredness of the spring.