Click Photo OS grid reference: SC 4961 9193. On the top of the headland overlooking the Irish Sea beside a footpath, 350 metres to the north-east of St Maughold’s churchyard, is the place of medieval pilgrimage called St Maughold’s Well or Chibbyr Vaghal, a pre-Christian spring that was adopted by a 5th century Celtic saint called Macaille, Maccald or Maughold, who was an Irish prince. To reach the well head east along the track to the lighthouse, but after 100 metres via off along the footpath in a northerly direction; keep on this path for 320 metres towards the headland (north side) and, on reaching a gate take the footpath in a south-easterly direction for a short distance to the well which, flows into an oblong pool beneath some rocks that jut out forming the surround at one side of the well, on the gorse-covered Maughold Headland overlooking the Irish Sea. The town of Ramsey is 2 miles north-west on the A2 road and Laxey village is roughly 6 miles south, also on the A2 road.
The sacred healing spring flows into a little pool beneath ancient rocks and, although it is said to be ‘a never failing-spring’, it does sometimes seem to stop flowing at certain times. This source of water issuing from deep in the ground once served a Celtic monastery, founded in the 5th century by the Irish saint, Maughold, who had come here in the footsteps of two of St Patrick’s disciples St Conindrus and St Romulus, to live on the headland after apparently trying to deceive St Patrick by placing a live man in a shroud, then asking St Patrick to come and revive him with a miracle, but the ‘evil deed’ did not work on the great Irish saint and so Maccald, a well-known outlaw and robber, became a Christian and was sent, as a penence, to live out his humble life as a hermit on the remote and rather windswept headland of the island. Legend says the well was formed (sprang forth) where his horse came ashore after it carried the saint over the sea from Ireland! There is a long flat stone beside the well which is shaped like a ‘chair’ and in more recent times it was indeed called St Maughold’s Chair, but whether this is the original stone chair is another matter because it was recorded recently that the stone had disappeared from the side of the well.
In the book ‘More Rambling In The Isle of Man’ the author Peter J.Hulme, 1993, informs us, interestingly, “That the spring may have been the work of men since among the unique collection of Christian monuments (housed at St Maughold’s church in the village) of the period is one reading “Bramhui led off water to this place.” So although the spring was already there, could it be that the monastic community here somehow managed to divert the spring – Bramhui perhaps being the monk whose idea it was?
The water used to have healing qualities according to the authors Janet & Colin Bord in their brilliant book ‘Sacred Waters’, 1986. They go on to say that: “women wishing for offspring would drink the water of St Maughold’s Well and sit on the saint’s chair close by”, and the well had its full virtue “only when visited on the first Sunday of harvest, and then only during the hour the books were open at church (ie when the priest was saying Mass)”. They also say: “Its water was believed to cure many ailments, including sore eyes and infertility. Barren women would sit in the ‘saint’s chair’ nearby and drink a glass of the well water. Pilgrims would drop a pin, bead or button into the well before leaving”.
And the author William Bennet in his work ‘Sketches of the Isle of Man,’ 1829, says of the well: “most celebrated in modern times for its medicinal virtues is the spring which issues from the rocks of the bold promotory called Maughold Head, and which is dedicated to the saint of the same name, who, it appears, had come upon the well and endowed it with certain healing virtues. On this account is is yet resorted to, as was the pool of Siloam of old, by every invalid who believes in its efficary. On the first Sunday in August, the natives, according to ancient custom, still make a pilgrimage to drinks its waters; and it is held to be of the greatest importance to certain females to enjoy the beverage when seated in a place called the Saint’s Chair, which the saint, for the accommodation of succeeding generations obligingly placed immediately contagious persons”.
St Maughold became bishop of the island, succeeding St Conindri and St Romulus. He died in 488 or 498 AD. He was also, apparently, a missionary in Scotland and Wales – indeed in Wales he goes under the name St Mawgan – if that’s correct then it would appear that the penence afforded to him by St Patrick did not come to complete fruition!
Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1986.
Hulme, Peter. J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.
Bennet, William., Sketches of the Isle of Man, London, 1829, p.65.
The Ancient And Histotric Monuments of the Isle of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, (Fourth (Revised) Edition, Dublin, 1973.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/pin/531635930983947437/