The arid land of the holy land is watered by a number of ancient springs. Perhaps the most famed is the Ain il-‘adra or Mary’s Well, a well which has served its Arab community well over the millennium. It is located below Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in modern-day Nazareth. The church is so called because it is believed that the well was the location where the Annunciation occurred, Mary learnt she would be carrying Jesus from the Archangel Gabriel.
However, neither the Four Gospels nor The Koran mention her drawing water from the well at the time and it only appears earliest written account that lends credence to a well or spring being the site of the Annunciation comes from the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James non-canonical gospel which reads:
“And she took the pitcher and went forth to draw water, and behold, a voice said: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, you are blessed among women.”
The spring itself was one which fed the ancient city of Nazareth, and it was called ‘Spring of the Guardhouse’. Rae Wilson also describes “a well of the Virgin, which supplied the inhabitants of Nazareth with water” in his book, Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land (1824). An account in 1853 notes that:
“the water at this spring was very deficient this summer season, yielding only a petty trickling to the anxious inhabitants. All night long the women were there with their jars, chattering, laughing, or scolding in competition for their turns. It suggested a strange current of ideas to overhear pert damsels using the name of Miriam (Mary), in jest and laughter at the fountain of Nazareth.”
The present semi domed structure appears to be largely symbolic and no longer functions, although it was still used as a local watering hole until 1966. This was undertaken in 2000. During the late 1990s, evacuations revealed underwater systems suggestion its use as the town’s water supply from the Byzantine period and a separate accidental discovery revealed an underground bath house with Carbon dating it from the 1300s at the latest.
Hammat Gader’s mineral springs, one cold and four hot, fill the remains of a Byzantine bath house complex. Another Roman spa can be found on the southern side of Hammat but not as well preserved. The name Hammat means hot spring in Hebrew.
Another Mary’s Well is found in Jerusalem and is so named after the belief that she stopped there for a drink whilst visit John the Baptist’s parents and as a consequence it was a source of pilgrimage. Little can be found out regarding its history but it is thought that the spring has been used since the Bronze Age. The well is covered by a 19th century mosque.
More prominently mentioned in the bible is Jacob’s Well or Bir Ya’qub now lying in the Eastern Orthodox monastery named after it in Nablus. The Book of John states that Jesus:
“came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph, Jacob’s Well was there.”
It was at this location that a Samaritan Women spoke to Jesus according to the Gospel of John. By the early 300 AD it is believed that the well was being used by Christians for baptism and by 380 AD a church was built over it according to Saint Jerome which survived into the 500s. Another church was built in the 700s but this was ruinous when the Crusaders mention the well as no church is mentioned. However, the Crusaders built a church for an account from the 12th century noted:
“it lies in front of the altar in the church built over it, in which nuns devote themselves to the service of God. This well is called the Fountain of Jacob.”
This church fell in 1187 during Saladin’s raids. For over 700 years, no church was built over the well and only ruins are noted as being nearby, then in 1860, a Greek Orthodox Church was constructed but this too was lost to an earthquake in 1927. But the site was rebuilt to resemble a Crusader church where the well is enclosed in the crypt where it now consists of a winch well complete with its bucket surrounded by icons and votive candles. Its deep burrowed into the rock is 41 feet and still contains water.
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.