Did St. Patrick visit the Lake District? St Patrick’s Well, Patterdale
In Charles Hope’s 1893 Legendary lore of Holy wells St Patrick’s Well Patterdale is the only site mentioned twice in both Cumbria and Westmorland:
“PATTERDALE: ST. PATRICK’S WELL: St. Patrick’s Well is situated near the chapel in Patterdale.
PATTERDALE : ST. PATRICK’S WELL: As Saint Patrick passed down this beautiful valley he is said to have founded the church and blessed the well. Thus we have St. Patrick’s church and St. Patrick’s well to this day, the ancient name of the valley being Patrickdale.
For many centuries the Holy Well was used for the purposes of baptism.- — Rev. J. Wilson.”
St Patrick in Cumbria?
As Hope notes St Patrick passed by but how? A local tradition tells that he was shipwrecked off the south Cumbria coast and the local people here looked after him. The earliest reference appears to be Nicolson & Burn in their 1777 The History and Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, who say:
“so called probably from St Patrick, to whom the chapel seems to be dedicated… and nigh unto the chapel is a well called St Patrick’s well”.
The Rev W.P Morris wrote in 1903
“During his short stay here he caused a church to be built (probably of wood) and that he also baptised a number of the inhabitants at a well, and the district was afterwards known as Patrickdale”
Is it a back derivation?
The name was recorded as Patrichesdale, meaning ‘Patrick’s Valley’, in 1184 but equally this apparently refers to a twelfth-century landownwer and at some point the saint was attached. Certainly by 1787 the name had stuck as it appears as St Patrick’s Well appears on Clarke’s map of the Lakes. So despite attempts of topographers and cartographers it probably has very little to do with the saint. There is a record of a cappella de Patricdale in 1348 which may have confused the issue.
However, in his Confessio St Patrick states that he was brought up in Britain in a place called Bannaven Taburniae. Here his father was a deacon and grandfather a priest and from here he was kidnapped by raiders and sold into slavery. This Bannaven Taburniae has not been identified but of course it could be in Cumbria. The evidence being that the saint was taken to Ireland suggesting a west coast location and looking at the name it could be Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall or Glannoventa where substantial bath house ruins remain near Ravenglass which is even nearer. So it is possible.
The well today
The well is one of the most substantial in Cumbria being a small stone building with a pointed roof akin to a small chapel made of grey stone with a slate roof. The well was dry when I visited but apparently it is more often full of water especially in the spring and summer. Fr John Musther’s in his 2017 Springs of Living Water states that the water had healing properties. The constructor of the well is not known but it is evidently some local estate owner. The Rev Morris stated that it was constructed in the 18th Century to satisfy the “idle curiosity of visitors” and did not think it was in the correct location. Dry or otherwise if you can manage the road and the visitors it is a delightful find in the Lake district.