A pilgrimage to Walsingham’s holy well

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Well which well is it?

This is without doubt the most famous site of all holy wells and indeed Christianity in the county, now the main well is perhaps a modern one (we’ll explore its provenance below).) but in the ruins of its famed Abbey are  ‘Wishing Wells’ clearly holy wells, the more likely location of the 1061, vision of Mary by Richeldis de Faverches,, who built a replica of the Holy House where a spring arose. The site became a major pilgrimage centre and its waters were said to be good for curing headaches and stomach complaints. If these are the original site, after Reformation, they denigrated to mere wishing wells.

Walsingham Holy Wells (1)

Howeverr, most attention quite rightly is directed to the well enclosed in the modern Anglican shrine. A site which now could be classed as one of the most active holy wells in the country, Our Lady’s Well. This is the central focus of modern veneration at Walsingham. Its history is difficult however. It was during the digging for a new shrine in the 1930s.The shrine needed a well and this was convenient Consequent excavations revealed did suggest that this well was Saxon and thus as near the site of the original Holy House thought to be the original shrine. However this is difficult to prove. Now enclosed in a modern shrine, above this well an effigy of Our Lady with infant Jesus, is placed in as a centre piece of this modern arched alcove. Local belief suggests that an underground conduit connects these wells to the Anglican well of Our Lady, their source.

Little Walsingham was once the greatest shrine in Europe, with commoners and kings all following the many pilgrim paths to the shrine of ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’. It had a sacred image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a phial of her milk, and many other spurious relics, not to mention the two miraculous wells in the priory garden.

The origins

In 1061 the Lady Richeldis de Faveraches, wife of a Norman lord of the manor, is said to have had a vision at Walsingham in which the Virgin Mary appeared to her, took her in spirit to the ‘Sancta Casa’ – the home of Christ in Nazareth – and commanded her to build in Norfolk an exact replica. Aided by angels, the shrine was built of wood and later encased in stone, the site being ordained by the welling up of two clear streams at the behest of Mary. Rumours began to spread that Mary herself had fled there before the threat of invasion, and then that the chapel was the Sancta Casa itself, transported there by angels.

A priory was built there in the early 12th century, which the scholar and theologian Desiderius Erasmus visited in 1511, writing in his ‘Colloquy on Pilgrimage’:

“Before the chapel is a shed, under which are two wells full to the brink; the water is wonderfully cold, and efficacious in curing pains in the head & stomach. They affirm that the spring suddenly burst from the earth at the command of the most holy Virgin”.

Walsingham Holy Wells (7)Walsingham Holy Wells (6)








The wishing wells

These are circular wells and a square stone bath can be found near an isolated remnant of Norman archway in the priory ruins, in the grounds of a house called Walsingham Abbey. The wells are most noted nowadays for being wishing wells. If you remain totally silent within about 10 feet of the water, you should kneel first at one well, then at the other, and make a wish as you drink – but tell no-one what you wish for. Committing one error in the ritual is said to be fatal.

Another version mentions a stone between the wells on which one must kneel with their right knee bare, then put one hand in each well up to the wrist, and drink as much of the water as you can hold in your palms. Provided your wishes are never spoken aloud, they will be fulfilled within the year. On my visit I was keen to try it out…but found the wells covered by metal grills.

Walsingham Holy Wells (21)

More on Norfolk’s holy wells in the forthcoming Holy Wells and healing springs of Norfolk coming in 2017.

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Currently researching calendar customs and folklore of Nottinghamshire

Posted on November 19, 2015, in Favourite site, Folklore, Hebrew, Norfolk, Well hunting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Will the water if drunk bring justice to those who have hurt the person?

  2. it is a pity that people were made to believe in wishing wells. The taste of the water served from this well, similar to the type of clean well water that had to be used for filling the stone jars for ritual cleansing at the wedding of Canaan, should make people realise that to serve this water instead of wine would have made people at the time realise what it meant when the master of ceremony declared that the groom had served the most valuable drink to the last, the water born to become wine as they would have understood that no wine would be good enough to compete with the invigorating quality of that water. Even the best wine would only make you drunk in the end and if you pour it on your plants they will wither. This water however, like the water used for the ritual cleansing, is live giving. You have to understand that those jars could not just be filled with something like “tap water”.
    If you ever have a chance to be given some of this water you will understand, and ask yourself why Jesus would want to teach that man made wine is more valuable than the pure unspoilt water like this, that God has given to us – or why he would teach us that it is an embarrassment that your lack of material wealth to buy enough booze would make him spring into action and magic up wine for you so that the master of ceremony would praise you for your honesty not to water down the wine / serve the cheap wine when the people had their fill but to leave the most valuable drink to the end. Jesus rightly said that his time had not yet come – to address the crowd with authority – so he cunningly cornered the master of ceremony who spoke words of wisdom to put all those to shame who came to the wedding not to wish the couple well but expecting plenty of booze, thus showing their materialistic thinking. Shame on those who think that Jesus would do magic to make wine instead of him creating a miracle to make people think logically and reflect upon real values.

    I would challenge anyone to serve me a wine I would find to taste more refreshing than that water, let alone more valuable

  1. Pingback: Miracles and games – Have Paprika, Will Travel

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