The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

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Our Lady’s Well (Ladyewell), Fernyhalgh, Lancashire

By Andrew Henderson

OS grid reference SD 55612 33622. Our Lady’s Well (Ladye Well) at Fernyhalgh can be reached along a narrow country lane (Fernyhalgh Lane) to the east of the A6 and M6 motorway, some 4 miles north of Preston. Fernyhalgh is a hamlet situated between the villages of Broughton and Grimsargh, with pleasent countryside on all sides. The holy well of Our Lady is in the garden of the 17th century Ladywell House which houses a Roman Catholic chapel and retreat centre. It is located at the side of the secluded Fernyhalgh Lane that runs south for about ½ a mile from D’Urton Lane. The entrance to the well and shrine is through a little gate almost hidden at the side of the retreat centre building.

There was a chapel on this site way back in 1348 and possibly a shrine dating back to the 11th century. The spring itself is obviously a Christian one, with it’s dedication to Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary, and possibly a pre-Christian spring. According to the legend, in about 1471 a merchant sailing across the Irish sea was caught in a terrible storm; afraid that he was going to drown he prayed to the Virgin Mary and vowed that if his life was saved he would undertake some work of devotion to Her. Soon the storm cleared and he found himself washed-up but safe on the Lancashire coast, but he had no idea where he was. At that moment a heavenly voice spoke to him and told him to find a place called Fernyhalgh and there build a chapel at a spot where a crab-apple tree grew the fruit of which had no cores, and where a spring would be found. He began to search around for this sacred place but no-matter how much he tried he could not find it.

The merchant found lodgings in Preston and, was about to give up altogether, when he overheard a serving girl at the inn. She started to explain why she was so late on arrival. She went on to say that she had had to chase her stray cow all the way to Fernyhalgh. The merchant asked her if she could take him to this place. In a short time he discovered the apple tree with fruit bearing no cores and beneath it a spring and also a lost statue of the Virgin and child. He set about building a chapel close by in memory of Our Lady and soon pilgrims were visiting the holy well and receiving miracles of healing. However, during the time of persecutions in the reign of King Henry VIII and through to that of King Edward VI the well was abandoned and left derelict, and the chapel itself was sadly demolished.
Lady Well, Fernyhalgh

Lady Well.

The holy well of Our Lady was, however, fully restored in the late 17th century and a new chapel (the Martyrs Chapel) was built in 1685 when persecutions towards Catholics had eased. Again the place became a place of pilgrimage and many miraculous cures were being recorded there. The chapel (which is upstairs in Ladywell House) was used by religious sisters as a place of retreat and is still used today; it houses some of the relics of the English Catholic martyrs. Today, it is a renowned Roman Catholic pilgrimage centre and Marian Shrine, with thousands of visitors coming from far and wide.

The holy well stands within a rectangular enclosure with steps descending down; the well itself being a small square-shaped basin overlooked by a statue in a stone-niched surround of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. The well and shrine were restored to what we see today between 1905-1954 by the religious sisters, and it is still very well cared for by volunteers in the local Catholic community, with flowers usually adorning the well-shrine during the Summer months. Coins are sometimes thrown into the well although ‘it is not’ regarded as a “wishing well”. Visitors are always welcome and, you don’t have to be a Catholic, everybody regardless of what religious persuasion they might be can visit the well and shrine.
Edward J. Popham, writing in 1988, says of this place: “To the north of Watling Street road and near to Preston is a place known as “Fernyhalge”. The name is a combination  of two Anglo-saxon words, namely “ferny” meaning ancient or old and the word “halgh” which means shrine. In the Prologue to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”, he states that in the spring people  go on pilgrimage to “ferna halwes” (ancient shrines). Why the Anglo-saxons called this place an “Ancient Shrine” is unknown; but they must have had a good reason for doing so. The most reasonable explanation  is that on this site once stood an ancient shrine to a Roman Goddess; but that after the King of Northumbria was baptized at York on Easter Day in A.D. 627, the site was converted into a shrine to Our Lady. It is generally accepted that the shrine of Our Lady at Glastonbury is the oldest Marian shrine north of the Alps; but it is quite possible that the Shrine of Our Lady of “The Ancient Shrine” at Fernyhalge may be older. This shrine was regularly and frequently visited by Catholics in Penal Times. Their faith in Mary was undoubtedly a source of their courage and fortitude.”
Sources and related websites:-
Bord, Janet & Colin Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, 1986.
Popham, Edward, J., (assisted by Margaret Panikkar), The Osbaldeston Saga, 1988. With illustrations by Andrew Henderson.
Popham, Edward, J., Where Shall We Go In The Ribble Valley, The Salford Catholic Truth Society, 1993.
Fields, Ken, The Mysterious North, Countryside Publications, 1987.
With thanks also to The Northern Antiquarian.
                                                            © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


St Materiana’s Church, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

OS grid reference SX 0506 8845. On Vicarage Hill Lane at Glebe Cliffe close to the seashore and just to the west of the famous Arthurian village of Tintagel, north Cornwall, stands St Materiana’s church, also called Mertheriana’s, an ancient religious foundation that is now the parish church. At the west end of the south transept there is a Roman milestone commemorating the Emperor Licinius which dates from the 4th century AD. The inscription on the stone reads IMPCG VAL LICIN (the Emperor). This would be Caesar Galerius Valerius Licinianus (308-24 AD). This milepost was originally built into the church lychgate (Lower Church Stile) where it had been used as a coffin rest! but in 1888 it was brought inside the church for safety. Another Roman milestone was found at nearby Trethevy village. This has a Latin inscription: IMP C DOMIN GALLO ET VOLUSIANO honouring Gallus* and Volusianus (AD 251-253). *The Roman emperor Gallus ruled together with his son Volusianus.

Also housed inside the church at the west end of the nave is a very fine Norman font bowl which is said to have come from St Julitta’s Chapel in the grounds of Tintagel Castle. The church dates from about 1080 AD and was built on the site of a Saxon or Dark-Age settlement. Much of it’s wonderful carved stonework is from the Norman and medieval periods, especially the north doorway (1080) and the south doorway (1130). The building was restored in the 1870s by J.P.St Aubyn.

St Materiana (Madryn or Madrun) was a 5th century princess from the south-east of Wales who came to live in the area as a nun with some female companions. She founded the first church and, possibly a monastery, at Minster (Talkarn) near Boscastle (SX 1105 9046) some 5 miles to the east of Tintagel. She was eventually buried at Minster with her feast-day on 9th April. Her tomb existed in the ‘mother church’ of Boscastle (which is also dedicated to her) in Minster Woods about half a mile east of that village, in the Valency Valley, up until the Reformation.

According to the ‘Legend’, Materiana was the daughter of Vortimer the son of the British King Vortigern (of Wales), and later she married Ynyr, King of Gwent. However, she decided to lead a religious life and with her companions Marcelliana and Uliet (Juliot or Julitta) sailed to north Cornwall where they set about their mission to covert the local people to Christianity. St Uliet (Juliot) founded a small monastery on the eastern promontory of Tintagel Head, opposite Tintagel Castle, circa 500 AD, which was excavated by archaeologists in the 1930s. There is a church dedication to St Uliet at Llanilid in Mid Glamorgan, south Wales, where she is described as being one of the many daughters of King Brychan of Brecknock (Brecon) whose second wife was called Marcella – maybe St Marcelliana? St Materiana’s holy well can still be seen in Minster churchyard.

Aelnet's Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Aelnet’s Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Back in the village of Tintagel itself and in the grounds of the former Wharncliffe Arms Hotel (now new flats) on Fore Street stands a 5th-6th century Celtic cross. Although the cross dates from that time the carvings and an inscription are thought to have been carved in the 10th or 11th century? Originally the cross, which is just over 4 feet high, stood at nearby Trevillet where it had been used as a farm gatepost and has therefore suffered some damage.

It has wheel-head crosses on both faces and also Latin inscriptions. On the front face there is the inscription: AELNET FECIT HAN CRUCEM PRO ANIMA SUA or ‘Aelnet made this cross for the sake of his soul’. On the opposite face the names of the four Evangelists MATHEUS, MARCUS, LUCAS AND JOHANES with their beaded faces being carved into the angles of the expanded cross-arms.


Pevsner, N & Radcliffe, E., The Buildings Of England, Cornwall, Penguin Books, 2nd edition, 1970.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales, 1991.

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, Paladin Books, St Albans, Herts, 1971.


The Ruthwell Cross, Dumfries And Galloway, Scotland

OS grid reference NY 1006 6821. About ½ a mile to the north of Ruthwell village in the Scottish borders, near Annan, is Ruthwell parish church and housed within is The Ruthwell Cross, a quite spectacular Anglo-Saxon (Northumbrian) cross dating from the late 7th to early 8th century, and which also has Norse carvings, some Germanic influence and a runic inscription. It is considered by historians to be one of the most important of the early Christian, Dark-Age crosses in Europe. The church stands beside the country lane to Newfield, close by Aiket farm, a short distance to the east of the B724 Annan road. Dumfries is 6 miles to the north-west.

The cross stands in the church apse that had to be specially built to accomodate the monument that is 18 feet (5.3 metres) in height; the base of the shaft being set below the level of the floor. Originally it stood outside in the churchyard where in 1642 it was toppled and broke up by the Scottish Church authorities, but in 1800 a local clergyman, Reverend Duncan, realising it’s importance decided to assemble the pieces of cross-shaft which was finally placed inside the church for safety in 1823. A large part of the cross-head was missing and badly damaged, especially the arms, and so it had to be entirely rebuilt with what fragments were available, but I must say a fairly good job has been done. The rest of the tall cross-shaft had also been broken in several places and has had to be rebuilt with the original sections set into their proper places and, once again a brilliant job has been done.

The Ruthwell Cross

The Ruthwell Cross (front)

The north face (front) of the cross-shaft has some pretty astounding carvings. Christ is shown in magesty (glory) standing upon the heads of two beasts, a sign of his triumph over evil; also Christ’s crucifixion, St John the Evangelist with his eagle, St Matthew, St John the Baptist holding the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) with a cruciform numbus around it’s head and a cross in it’s front foot; also a vexillum – a cross-inscibed banner. Around the front edges there are 18 of the earliest ‘extant’ Northumbrian dialect verses from the epic English poem ‘The Dream of The Rood’ that is in both runic and Latin. In the 7th century the Scottish borders came under the control of the Northumbrian kingdom of Deira. On the opposite (south) face St Mary Magdalene tenderly washes (annoints) the feet of Christ. On the west face another runic inscription along with some beautifully carved and very delicate interlinking vinescrolls, incorporating many strange looking creatures; the east face also has interlinking vinescrolls. Other figures on the south face include two figures embracing, often thought to be Mary and Martha, an archer, the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on a donkey. Other carvings on the cross include various strange animals and human figures, two of which could be St Paul & St Anthony breaking bread?

Ruthwell Cross (front)

This truely is a masterpiece of Early English Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship with Scandinavian and, possibly Germanic influence, that can only be equalled by a few of the Celtic high crosses in Ireland. When the Ruthwell Cross was first set up it would have been painted in some quite vivid colours – what a sight it must have been for the early Christians of northern Britain. There is some uncertainty about the age of the cross, but it was probably carved somewhere between 660-700 AD?



Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries Of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd)., 1994.

Breeze, David, J., Historic Scotland, Batsford Ltd., London, 1998.

The Automobile Association, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, 1963.

Humphrey, Rob; Reid, Donald & Tarrant, Paul., Scotland – The Rough Guide (4th Edition), The Rough Guides Ltd., London, 2000.

Bottomley, Frank., The Church Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1978.


The Gloonan Stone, Cushendun, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Gloonan Stone, Co.Antrim

The Gloonan Stone (Rosemary Garrett)

Irish grid ref: D2336 3218. A couple of miles to the west of Cushendun village, Co. Antrim, along the Glendun road and opposite Craigagh church can be found The Gloonan Stone, or St Patrick’s Knee-Stone, which is actually one of literally hundreds of balluan stones that are to be found in Ireland, and is said to date back to the time of the Irish patron saint, though it’s more likely to pre-date him. The Church of St Patrick and St Brigid across the road is worth looking at and, in Craigagh Woods to the west, there is an ancient, carved altar stone (Altar In The Woods) that has been frequented by the local Catholic community for hundreds of years. The village of Knocknacarry is roughly ½ a mile to the south-east on the opposite side of the Dun river, while the coastal village/townland of Cushendall is 8 miles to the south-west on the A2 road.

At the opposite side of the Roman Catholic church of St Patrick and St Brigid on Glendun Road at the side of the entrance to the farm stands the famous Gloonan Stone with a large hollowed out, circular hole and a smaller circular depression that is considered to be one of the more famous of all the balluan stones in Ireland. The name Gloonan (gluin) means knee-stone, this one in particular being associated with the great St Patrick. Of the two holes the deeper one often has water inside it that is locally considered to be miraculous – in fact it is, perhaps, sometimes erroneously called St Patrick’s Well, the water having the ability to cure warts and other skin problems. Legend says that when St Patrick was travelling this way in the 5th century AD he stopped here, knelt down on the stone and drank the water, thus making the water from that time onwards, miraculously curative; his knee apparently caused the smaller, circular depression, at least that’s the ‘legend’. Other possibilities being that the stone was used by Celtic missionaries as a sort of baptismal font, another that it was used for the grinding of corn?

In St Patrick and St Brigid’s Catholic church, dating from 1917, across the road there is a lovely Rose window and also some other interesting stained-glass. Inside the entrance stands a replica of the medieval Ardclinis crozier, the original one being in the National Museum, Dublin. This bishop’s crozier came from the monastic site at Ardclinis near Waterford and could well be associated with St Patrick?

In Craigagh Woods to the west stands the famous ‘Altar In The Woods’, an oval-shaped stone set into a rock with the crucified Christ and a winged cherub carved onto it; there used to be an inscription but this has worn away. The stone was brought here by boat from the island of Iona, western Scotland, in the 1500s by local people in the days of Penal Law. The Local Roman Catholic community came to worship at this rocky site long before the carving of Christ as it was well hidden by the oak trees, and every June crowds of people with ‘great faith’ still come to worship here at the altar and at the little chapel that stands on the site of an earlier religious building, probably of a medieval date.


Garrett, Rosemary., Cushendun, and the Glens of Antrim, J.S. Scarlett & Sons, Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, 1956.



St Patrick’s Chair, Marown, Isle Of Man

St Patrick's Chair, Marown.

St Patrick’s Chair, Marown.

OS grid reference SC 3050 7650. In a field called Magher-y-Chairn just west of the B35 road between Braaid and Crosby, in the parish of Marown, Isle of Man, and north of Garth farm are three standing stones stood together that are known locally as St Patrick’s Chair or Chairn-y-Pherick. Two of the slabs have early Christian crosses carved on them. In the same field is a holy well. Local legend has it that St Patrick came to preach here in the mid 5th century AD, but actually there is no hard evidence to support this. However, three Irish bishops – namely St Runius (Ronan), St Lonan and St Connachan (Onchan) are said to have lived and possibly died here. Indeed, they may lie in St Runius’ churchyard at Kirk Marown, about half a mile to the north-east. Also in that churchyard at the east end of the old church are the remains of a keeill, a primitive chapel dating from the early Christian period. The parish of Marown (Ma-Ronan) takes it’s name from the saint; and the town of Douglas is 4 miles to the east.

Originally there were five granite standing stones here but two have now fallen over and they lie amongst a jumble of other stones that may have once formed a burial site. Two of the slabs have simple but intricately carved thin crosses on their front faces from the early Christian period. It would appear that early missionaries have christianised these stones at some point between the 7th-9th centuries AD, as the standing stones themselves almost certainly pre-date Christianity by a few thousand years, making them prehistoric in age. Was this the meeting place for early Christians, or was it the burial place for an ancient chieftain? who knows! At the south-eastern side of the very same field is a holy well called Chibber y Chairn (Well of the Chair), also known as St Ronan’s Well.

Local legends say that St Patrick himself came here and used the stones as a seat to preach from in the 5th century AD; however this cannot be substantiated and is thought highly unlikely, but it is likely that Irish bishops preached in front of the stones – one bishop in particular could well have been St Ronan, known locally as St Runius or Runy (Ma-Ronan) who founded a tiny chapel (keeill) a short distance to the north-east in the 7th or 8th century? and has given his name to Marown parish. His feast-day is still celebrated in the Isle of Man on 7th February. He was apparently third bishop of Man following St Maughold (d 498) who “was” a convert of St Patrick. Whether this St Ronan is one and the same as St Ronan, bishop of Kilmaronen in Lennox, Innerleithen, Scotland, is uncertain, but ‘he’ is credited with attending the famous Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, according to the Venerable Bede.

The remains of the saint’s humble little chapel, built from wattle and daub with earthen walls stone-faced on the inside and roughly measuring 16 feet by 10 feet, can be seen at the east-side of St Runius’ old church. The little building dates from c1200 AD, but was enlarged and then rebuilt in the mid 18th century. It eventually fell in to decay only to be restored and re-opened again in 1959 by local people. Housed within are some crude Manx-style crosses, one of which was found beneath the porch. Could it be that these crosses once marked the resting places of the three Irish saints? This is certainly a very holy site.


The Manx Museum And National Trust, The Ancient And Historic Monuments of The Isle Of Man, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas, 1973.

Farmer, David., Oxford Dictionary Of Saints, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004.

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