The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Scotlandwell (Holy Well), Perth And Kinross, Central Scotland

Scotlandwell (Holy Well) in Central Scotland.

OS Grid Reference: NO 1847 0161. At the western side of Scotlandwell village in the Portmoak District of Perth & Kinross, Central Scotland, there is an ancient holy well and also a 19th century wash-house. The village is 4 miles west of Glenrothes and 4 miles east of Kinross (across Loch Leven). In the late 1st century AD the Romans came by the well and named it ‘Fons Scotiae’ and in the late 13th century the local friars were using the water in their hospice and, in the early 14th century the well was visited by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, who took the waters here in the hope of a cure. Later the well was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). The well became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and continued as such for several centuries thereafter. To reach the site (signposted) head west from Kinross on the A911 (Leslie Road) and go through Scotlandwell village. Where the A911 ends cross over Main Street and walk along the short lane (Little Arnot); the well is on the left at the far end.

Scotlandwell by Euan Nelson  (Geograph).

The ancient curative spring known as Scotlandwell or ‘Fons Scotiae’ (Well of Scotland) at the foot of Bishop Hill (Portmoak Moss) bubbles up from deep underground through the sandy earth and into the stone-built well with its Victorian (Gothick) well-house structure, most of which is a clever reconstruction of 1858, although some of the lumps of stonework at the front of the well predate this and are probably from the earlier Medieval structure. Its healing waters were ‘said’ to be a cure for leprosy and other diseases. The green-painted wood and stone structure at the back with its canopy roof also dates from the mid 19th century. This whole site is now in a fairly well-preserved state thanks to a local community project. A plaque with the date 1858 is carved onto the stone well-head along with the architect’s name and also the benefactors’ names in capital letters. The nearby Wash House, built in 1860, which local people called ‘The Steamie’ and where laundry was washed, was presumably connected to the well’s underground water source, but sadly it has not been in use since the 1960’s. 

In 1250 the Trinitarian Friars (Red Friars) moved into the area and established a hospital or hospice. They used the curative waters from the holy well for patients in their new hospital of St Mary. Nothing much remains of that building on Friar Place today, however, as it was demolished after 1587. The Trinitarian order of friars was founded near Paris in the late 12th century by St John of Matha (d 1213).

Frank Bottomley (1981) tells us more about the Trinitarians: “An order, f. 1198, at Gerfroid in diocese of Meaux, also known as Maturins and Red Friars. They were not Mendicants but an austere order of priests based on the Augustinian rule. Their revenues were divided equally between their own support, charity to poor, especially travelers, and the redemption of prisoners in the hands of the infidel. The houses were usually small, consisting, of a superior (called minister or prior), three priest-brethren and three lay brothers. Sometimes the number was enlarged and the disappearing lay brothers seem to have been replaced by novices in 1267. They were relatively strong in Scotland with eight houses (visible remains at Dunbar and Peebles).” 

Bill Anderton (1991) tells us that: “It is said to be at this holy well that Robert Bruce was cured of leprosy, and records show that Charles II travelled from his Dunfermline Palace to take the waters, while Mary Queen of Scots too visited the well. An inscription above the water fount gives the date 1858, but this refers to the reconstruction. The well, like all Scottish holy places, is very ancient. The waters from the fount can be drunk from a special metal cup which hangs nearby.” Mr Anderton says this site has a ‘power point’. 

Janet & Colin Bord (1986) mention the well at Scotlandwell, saying that: “This elaborate well is in the centre of the village, and its water is said to have cured Robert the Bruce of leprosy.”

They also tell us that: “An example of present-day usage is quoted by Ruth and Frank Morris in their Scottish Healing Wells. In 1978 at the well in the centre of the village of Scotlandwell (Kinross) they met a women, her husband and brother who had travelled 40 miles from Edinburgh to fetch well water. One of the men had cancer and claimed that the water did him good: “If it was good enough for Robert the Bruce, it’s good enough for me,” he declared, referring to the belief that water from the well cured Robert the Bruce of his leprosy.”

The Bord’s add that: “Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-29) suffered from leprosy, and at least three wells were reputedly used by him in his search for a cure. He is said to have been responsible for a well at Prestwick (Ayr) which flowed where he stuck his spear in the sand while resting from his struggles with the English. He stayed for several days, and his leprosy was reputedly cured. He is said to have built a leper hospital for those who could not afford treatment. He also visited the St Lazarus Well at Muswell Hill (London) being granted a free pass by the King of England to do so.”

Sources and related websites:

Anderton, Bill, Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., Slough, Berkshire, 1991. 

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981. 

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

Photo (2nd down) by Euan Nelson:   http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4393647

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotlandwell

http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townfirst1211.html

https://crystalgalleries.org.uk/2012/05/the-sacred-well/

http://www.wellwashhouse.co.uk/

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g186565-d11890324-r445448188-Scotlandwell_Wash_House_and_Well-Perth_Perth_and_Kinross_Scotland.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


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St Corentin’s Chapel, I’le de Sein, Finistere, (Bretagne) Brittany

St Corentin’s Chapel on I’le de Sein, by Ji-Elle (Wikimedia Commons)

Latitude: 48.041993. Longitude: -4.867500. At the far northwestern side of the I’le de Sein at the sacred place called Goulénez, just 8 kms off the Finistere Coast at Pointe de Raz, (Bretagne) Brittany, stands the restored chapel dedicated to St Corentin (Cury), a 5th century Celtic saint who became bishop of Quimper; he was apparently also the adviser and confessor of King Gradlon le Grand – whose Breton kindom of Caer Ys (or Is) was both legendary and, almost certainly, mythical. Quimper eventually being the location of his new royal palace. The lonely little chapel, of ancient origins but restored in the early 1970s, is a short distance from the rocky seashore of the island’s northwest coast. There is also a holy well/spring and close to that is the ‘Hermit’s Garden’. St Corentin’s Chapel and holy well have long been a place of pilgrimage and veneration for the islanders themselves; but further back into the mists of time the island was home to the druidic priestess, Velleda, and then the Romans probably camped on the island, which ‘they’ were to call: Insula Sena. To reach the site: follow the Route du Phare coastal path around the north and northwest side of the island.

The Insight Guide (1994), says of the island: “Bretons call Ile de Sein Enez Sun, and it is suggested that this helps to identify it as the Isle of the Dead, a burial place of the druids. It is also said to be the Romans’ Insula Sena, a mysterious island where sailors used to consult an oracle tended by nine priestesses.”

The Insight Guide (1994) adds: “The home of King Gradlon, Is, was protected by a dyke and the key to its gates was always carried by the king. His daughter, named variously as Dahut or Ahés, had become attracted by the Devil in the shape of a handsome young man. The Devil requested that she steal the key to the gates that protected a dyke surrounding the king’s palace at Is. At the Devil’s request she stole the key and opened the gates allowing the sea to pour into the city. King Gradlon managed to escape on his horse with his daughter clinging onto him for dear life, but a voice from heaven informed him that he could only be saved if he ditch this evil spirit. He did this, and the sea withdrew, but his kingdom of Is was completely submerged and destroyed.

“The king then chose Quimper as his new capital for the kingdom of Cornouaille, and his statue stands between the two towers of the cathedral. For the rest of his days, he lived a life of holiness and piety, helped by the first bishop of Cornouaille, St Corentin. As for his daughter, Dahut, she became a mermaid (siren) known as Marie-Morgane, and today still lures sailors to watery graves,” according to the Legend.

The Insight Guide (1994) goes on to say that “As for St Corentin, he is remembered for his diet, which consisted purely of the flesh of one miraculous fish. Each day he would eat half of the fish and throw the rest back into the river, only to find it restored to full size the following day. Corentin was one of the first Celtic religious leaders to move to Brittany in the 5th century and, like the others, he became a saint.”

David Hugh Farmer (1982), says of St Corentin that he was: “Cornish founder and patron of Cury in the Lizard. He was a Celtic hermit who later became a Bishop in Brittany. An ancient cross stands near his church; in 1890 a fresco was discovered in Breage (the mother-church of the Lizard), which depicts him in cope and mitre with a pastoral staff. Beside him is a fish, from which he was reputed to have cut and eaten one slice each day, without any diminution in the size of the fish. An ancient Breton cult in his honour was revived by a private revelation in the 17th century, when several old shrines there were restored. His feast (translation?) at Quimper is the occasion for presents of blessed cakes. Ancient feast: 1st May.”

Map of I’le de Sein (North)

St Corentin or Corentinus, was a native of Armorica (Brittany), but he may have visited the southwest of England and maybe Wales at some point. At least one church is dedicated to him at Cury in Cornwall, where he is called St Cury. However, he was more likely a hermit living on the I’le de Sein (440 AD), a small island in the Atlantic, just off the Finistere coast, and later at Plomodiérn near Ménéz-Hom in Crozon. St Guenole (Winwaloe) was his disciple. Indeed, St Guenole also has a church dedication on the island. Corentin established a hermitage and church on the island and imparted his holiness into the waters of a well there. The site being of pre-historic importance. A modern wood statue of the saint stands inside the tiny chapel along with one of the Virgin Mary, and other Breton saints. Eventually, King Gradlon installed Corentin as first bishop of Quimper, in Cornouaille; the Cathedral of St Corentin now stands on the site of his church. He died at Quimper in 460, 490 or 495 AD. His feast-days are 1st May (translation) and 12th December.

Henry Queffélec (1945 & 1972), says of St Corentin’s hermitage on I’le de Sein: “the Chardin an Iarmit, or “‘Hermit’s Garden”‘, was situated on the western end of the ile de Sein next to a small chapel dedicated to St Corentin. Although the chapel has now fallen into ruins the site is still regarded by the people of Sein as a place of pilgrimage and special veneration. Cambray in his Voyage dans le Finistère of 1794 described the chapel and garden.”

Queffélec adds that: “There is no evidence whatsoever that the chapel dedicated to St Corentin was ever destroyed by fire or that its stones were used to build another church on the island. This chapel, unfortunately, has simply been allowed to fall into ruins and very little remains of it today.”  [The chapel was, however, rebuilt in 1971 by the people of the island and the priest.] 

He also adds more information with regard to the History of the island, saying that: “In early times, the ile de Sein was thought to be the haunt of supernatural beings. In the first recorded mention of the island in 43 A.D, in the work of the Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela, we are told that the Insula Sena possessed an oracle which was served by nine vestal virgins who had the capacity to control the elements and cure the apparently incurable. This tradition is later exploited by Chateaubriand in Book IX of Les Martyrs (1809) in his description of the sacrificial activities of the Celtic druidess Velleda some of which take place on the “‘ile de Sayne, ile venerable et sacrée”‘. In the Middle Ages , the ile de Sein is caught up in the Arthurian legends and according to some  storytellers, is the birthplace of two of the most accomplished magicians, the wizard Merlin, and Morgan La Fée.” 

Sources and related websites:

Insight Guide, Brittany, (Ed. by Brian Bell), APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1994.

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Queffélec, Henri, Un Recteur De L’ile De Sein, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1972. Originally pub. in French Language (1945) by Éditions Stock.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ile_de_Sein

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corentin_of_Quimper

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%8Ele_de_Sein

http://audierne.info/la-chapelle-st-corentin/

https://www.breizh-poellrezh.eu/bretagne/%C3%AEle-de-sein/

http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gradlmby.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

 


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St Robert’s Cave-Chapel And Holy Well, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

St Robert’s Cave by Storye book (Wikimedia Commons).

OS Grid Reference: SE 36083 56059. In a secluded wooded area near Grimbald Bridge between Abbey Road and the River Nidd at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, is St Robert’s Cave & Holy Cross Chapel. Nearby, another chapel, but a 15th century wayside chapel and shrine, hewn out of the rock, which is today dedicated to Our Lady of The Crag. This particular chapel is not how-ever associated with St Robert. About 470m to the north is St Robert’s holy well, a healing spring resorted to by the faithful in times past. Robert Flower (1160-1218) was a hermit who spent many years here – more especially his latter years – but also at a number of other monastic sites across Yorkshire. He was said to have performed some miracles and devoted much of his time to the poor, though he was never canonised by the Church.  You can reach St Robert’s Cave from the newer bridge on Wetherby Road (B 6164). Go down the steps onto Abbey Road and a bit further south beside the river is the cave. The medieval Chapel of ‘Our Lady of the Crag’ is ½ a mile to the west at the other end of Abbey Road. St Robert’s Well was located on Monkswell Park Road about a ¼ of a mile north of town.

David Hugh Farmer (1982) says that St Robert was: “The son of an important townsman of York and became a cleric early in life. As a subdeacon he was a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but stayed only a few months. He then chose to live as a herm at Knaresborough in a cave where another hermit, also in residence, was a knight in hiding from Richard I, on whose death (1199) he returned to his wife. Robert continued there for some years, until a wealthy widow offered him a cell and chapel at Rudfarlington, near by. A year later this hermitage was destroyed by bandits, so Robert lived at Spofforth under the church wall for a few months, then at Hedley near Tadcaster, where he found the monks to easy-going, before returning to Rudfarlington. Here he had four servants and kept livestock, but was soon in trouble with William de Stuteville, constable of Knaresborough Castle, for harbouring thieves and outlaws. The charge may have been true, for Robert was well known for charity to the destitute. The hermitage was destroyed by William; Robert returned to his cave at Knaresborough, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Farmer goes on to say of St Robert: “His benefactors included King John who gave him forty acres of land in 1216, which he eventually accepted for the poor  and so refused to pay tithes on it. William de Stuteville also gave him land and cows. Robert had a companion called Yves, who  remained with him for the rest of his life.

Farmer also adds that: “Robert’s death, like much of his life, was controversial. Cistercian monks from Fountains tried unsuccessfully to aggregate him to their Order on his death-bed and, after his death on 24th September, to bury his body in their church. But he refused the first and foiled the second by arranging for his burial at the chapel beside his cave. Later the Trinitarian house at Knaresborough acquired the hermitage: papal records for 1252 offered  an indulgence for ‘Building the monastery of St. Robert at Gnaresbur, where the saint’s body is buried’. This document followed his translation, but preceded any official process of canonization, for which a book of Lives and prayers was prepared. Official canonization never took place, but implicit approval was given to the cult. The chapel became a place of pilgri-mage, where oil flowed from the tomb. Matthew Paris regarded Edmund of Canterbury, Elizabeth of Hungary and Robert of Knaresborough as outstanding saints of the early 13th century.”

Sign at St Robert’s  Cave by Caruso 308 (Wikipedia)

St Robert’s Cave on Abbey Road, with its connecting chambers and the grotto-like inner chapel, were carved out of the solid Limestone cliff beside the river Nidd. It’s thought the saint himself enlarged the chapel and hermitage which has a stone altar, stone seat, two alcoves, medieval carved cross and more recent graffiti; building this structure must have taken a considerable amount of both energy and time. The chapel was dedicated in honour of the Holy Cross and maybe also St Giles? Pilgrims visited the hermit-saint knowing him to be a miracle worker, and even some eminent local people were known to seek his good council. However, the cave and chapel were frequently flooded by the river Nidd and for long periods remained uninhabited and cut off – this more so in recent times. After the death of St Robert in 1218 his body lay in a tomb that was located in the cave-chapel. There is a church dedicated to him at Knaresborough and another at Pannall, north Yorkshire. Morley church, Derby-shire, has some very nice stained-glass windows depicting the Life of St Robert of Knaresborough. His feast-day is 24th September.

There used to be a holy well named for St Robert 470m to the north of the saint’s cave (at SE 3629 5650), but today that holy spot is the Monkswell Business Park, Manse Lane. However, the last vestiges of the said well/spring can still be seen although today it is a ‘wishing well’ into which locals throw coins! Robert Charles Hope (1893) said of this well that: “A short distance above Grimbald’s Bridge, in a field called Halykeld Sykes, on the north side of the river Nidd, is “”St Robert’s Well.”” There is also a chapel of St. Robert of Knaresborough, which was confirmed by charter to the Brethren of the Order of the Holy Trinity at Knaresborough by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.” Another holy well, said to be named after St Robert, can still be seen just to the southeast of Levisham, north Yorkshire.

Our Lady of The Crag, Knaresborough. (Drawing)

About ½ a mile to the west, at the other end of Abbey Road, is the medieval chapel of  ‘Our-Lady-of-the Crag’, which has sometimes mistakenly been called St Robert’s Chapel, but this folly-like structure was built 200 years after the saint. The chapel, with its tiny inner shrine, was carved out of the sandstone rock-face in c1408 by a local mason by the name of John, whose son was almost killed in a rock fall. John prayed to Our Lady for a miracle. His son survived, and to thank Our Lady for the miracle he built the Chapel in thanks. The inside of the chapel is very tiny but there is an altar and a lovely modern statue of Mary. It has a carved vaulted ceiling with bosses and gargoyles. Church services do still occasionally take place at the chapel and groups of pilgrims come on visits (see the St Mary of Knaresborough website, below, for more informa-tion). By the chapel’s entrance and ‘standing guard’ is an 18th century carved statue of a very life-like knight in armour holding his sword. The chapel is Grade I Listed.

Our Lady Of The Crag Chapel.

Headley & Meulenkamp (1999) add with regard to this chapel and saying that: “………it is a wayside shrine with beautiful Gothic decoration, immediately above it is Fort Montague, an 18th century folly.” They say of Knaresborough that: “it resembles parts of Derbyshire, not least because of the large number of hermits caves.” Fisher & Pennington (1953) say that: “It was originally a wayside chapel, founded at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It won its unenviable place in the annals of notoriety when Eugene Aram hid in it the body of his victim. Aram was convicted of murder and executed in 1759 many years after his crime, which was given a romantic interest quite undeser-ved by a novel of Bulwer Lytton. The figure is of a knight drawing his sword.”  

Sources and related websites:-

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Fisher, Graham & Pennington, John, Historic Britain, Odhams Books, Feltham, Middlesex, 1953.

Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes And Garden Buildings, Aurum Press Ltd., London, 1999.

Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore Of The Holy Wells Of England, Forgotten Books, 2012 (originally published 1893)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Roberts_Cave_008

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_of_Knaresborough

http://www.stmarysknaresborough.org/shrine.html

https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/things-to-do/st-roberts-cave-p1203201

http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1970/

http://www.halikeld.f9.co.uk/holywells/north/robert1.htm

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=26391

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


Robin Hood’s Well, Helmshore, Lancashire

Robin Hood’s Well near Helmshore, Lancashire.

   OS Grid Reference: SD 77860 19544. At the north-eastern edge of Holcombe Moor and beside Moor Road, locally called Stake Lane, 1 mile south of Helmshore, Lancashire, is Robin Hood’s Well/Spring. The well is located at the side of the old pilgrim’s route that led to Whalley Abbey and which passes close to the medieval Pilgrim’s Cross, that is now nothing more than a stone-base on the moor. There are no records to say that Robin Hood’s Well ever had healing powers, or to it being a sacred spring, but it must have had some holiness attributed to it by the monks and pilgrims who visited it and drank of its waters back in the mists of time. And there is nothing that says Robin Hood the outlaw of Sherwood Forest ever visited the well, though there is a Robin Hood’s Inn down in Helmshore village. It may originally have been called Pilgrim’s Well.  To reach it walk south along Moor Lane for 1 mile from the village of Helmshore, or go up the footpath from the B6214 (Helmshore Road) near Pleasant View Farm. Follow the path across the farm track and up over the fields over the wall stiles to the rough track (Stake Lane) at the top. Go through the wooden gate on the right and the well is below the wall in front of you.

Robin Hood’s Well.

Close-up of the pool below the spring.

   The author John Crawshaw writing in Source – The Holy Wells Journal, gives us a fair bit of interesting information with regard to the well. He says that: “Situated near Helmshore, on the edge of the ancient  Forest of Rossendale in Lancashire is Robin Hood’s Well. This well is near an ancient pilgrim’s route which passes by the Pilgrim’s Cross (which was in existence in A.D. 1176), on Holcombe Moor, and goes through the town of Haslingdon on its way to Whalley. In Anglo Saxon times Whalley church was an important minster and the mother church of an enormous parish. Later, in the medieval period, several chapels-of-ease were attached to Whalley church for the “ease” of the scattered population providing access to the Mass and the sacraments

   “After the move made by the Cistercian monks of Stanlow to Whalley at the end of the thirteenth century, traffic would have increased along this route. About one mile to the north of Pilgrim’s Cross, near this pilgrimage route is Robin Hood’s Well.

Pyramid-shaped stone above the well/spring.

   “The spring issues  out from beneath a large, worn stone capping: shaped rather like a flattened pyramid with a blunt apex. This is set against a drystone wall by the side of Stake Lane. The water falls from the well-head into a small pool and the whole arrangement of stones has the appearance of great age. The flattened pyramid-shaped piece of sandstone covering the well has several worn, carved indentations upon it, one of which, near the left-hand side at the front, is a wide groove. It is possible that this was made by the wearing down of the stone by a chain securing a drinking cup at its end. However, no trace of any chain or cup can now be discerned.”

   Mr Crawshaw goes on to say that: “Though it is reasonable to assume that this well was used by pilgrims on their way to Whalley church and later, the great Cistercian abbey there. I have not been able to discover any recorded references to its original dedication: nor does there seem to be any written record reciting any healing properties attributed to the water. It is possible of course that any such references are lost or were never recorded, or perhaps the well’s reputation  in the middle-ages was merely that of a providential source of drinking water on a pilgrim’s route, where prayers were said in gratitude for the slaking of the pilgrim’s thirst.

   “I have a theory that in fact the name of the well may have been brought into use following the 16th century religious reformation. I understand the term , “the play of  Robin Hood” was used by the 16th century Lancastrian religious reformers as a derogatory nick-name to describe the rituals and ceremonies of the old English Catholic Church. These reformers had no use for pilgrimages to holy sites such as the ancient parish churches, the shrines of saints or holy wells; indeed they denounced them as being of no spiritual value.

   “One of the most famous Lancastrian reformers, John Bradford, in his Christmas sermon delivered in Manchester in 1552, threatened the people that, if the town did not “readily embrace the Word of God, the Mass would be said again in that church, and the play of Robin Hood acted there”, ¹ which did indeed come to pass during the reign of Queen Mary. I believe that this ancient spring derives its name from this time, when the practice of visiting such wells was being denounced as “superstitious”.

   “The Elizabethan “settlement of religion”, having swept away the piety and traditional Catholic practices of the old Ecclesia Anglicana, had no use for pilgrimages which, in theory at least, it had outlawed. So, following the dissolution of Whalley Abbey and the official prohibition of the old Faith, this spring on an ancient pilgrim’s route appears to have fallen into being regarded merely as a source of water by the side of a little-used moorland lane.” 

Sources of information and related websites:-

Crawshaw, John, (Robin Hood’s Well), Source—The Holy Wells Journal,  New Series No 6—Summer 1998, Pen-y-Bont, Bont Newydd, Cefn, St Asaph, Clwyd, 1998.

¹ Haigh, Christopher, Reformation and Resistance in Tudor Lancashire, 1975, Cambridge University Press, Ch.11, 168.

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=44289

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmshore

https://haslingdens.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/historic-water-troughs-and-spring-fed.html

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


St Fillan’s Holy Well And Chapel, Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland

St Fillan's Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

St Fillan’s Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

   OS Grid Reference: NS 38401 6899. The healing well of St Fillan lies at the edge of a wooded area 140 metres to the north-east of the ruined and roofless chapel, also named for the saint, at the east-side of Kilallan Farm, near the village of Kilmacolm in the parish of Houston, Renfrewshire. And 55 metres to the south of the holy well, beside Corsliehill Road, is the famous St Fillan’s Seat, a large rock shaped as such. St Fillan or Foelan was an 8th century saint from Munster in Ireland. The little hamlet of Kilallan (meaning the cell of Fillan) with its old ruined church of St Fillan and graveyard was a holy and sacred site and also a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages – as was the nearby holy well and rock-seat. The church was last used for services in the latter part of the 18th century. Although the church is without its roof it does still retain some interesting medieval features, and there used to be a 10th century stone here. The holy well, ruined chapel and stone seat lie just off Corsliehill Road in the vicinity of Kilallan Farm, some 2 miles to the south-east of Kilmacolm, near Houston.

   The holy well of St Fillan was almost certainly a pre-Christian spring that was used by the saint himself in the 8th century for baptismal purposes. It’s water flowed from beneath a rock in the ground and into a round-shaped brick and stone basin. Long ago the holy water apparently miraculously cured children of rickets when they were bathed there; pieces of cloth and rags being hung on trees beside the well as votive offerings, although this ceased at the end of the 17th century when the local priest filled the well with stones. The water was also used for baptisms in the nearby church of St Fillan, which now stands roofless beside Kilallan farm. The well gets a brief mention in Janet & Colin Bord’s work ‘Sacred Waters’.

   St Fillan’s Old Church at the east-side of Kilallan (Kilellan) Farm (NS 38268 68934) is now roofless but the walls you see here are still very sturdy and solid-looking. This building stands on the site of an older, medieval church, but there are still parts of this “older” building in the fabric of the walls. The doorway is said to date from 1635. In the churchyard wall there is a ancient baptismal font, or stoup, from the older church; and there used to be a 10th century stone standing inside the present edifice, but this seems to have been removed for safety reasons. In 1772 St Fillan’s was finally abandoned to the elemants. The British Listed Buildings site says of this: “Church ruin; roofless; walls and major part of gables remain; dated lintel “1635”. Later E gable, thick crowstepped W gable, with bipartite window at clerestory level. N wall with tomb of Fleming of Barochan family. Doorways in N and S walls. Moulded cornice to all but E. 3 doors to S blocked up. Stone stoup built into wall. Early gravestones in kirkyard.” Historic Scotland Building ID is:- no 12897. (See the link below*).

St Fillan's Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

St Fillan’s Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

   A little further to the south-east of the ruined chapel, beside the road and opposite the farm building, is a large flat rock of ancient origins that is locally called St Fillan’s Seat or Chair at (NS 38419 68937). Legend records that the holy man sat here and baptized the local children. We don’t, however, know a great deal about the life of the saint other than he was born in (c703) and was a monk at Cluain Moescna, Co. Westmeath, but in his youth (c717 AD) sailed from Ireland to Scotland and was accompanied by his mother, St Kentigerna, and his uncle, St Comgan. We know that Fillan buried his uncle on the Island of Iona. His father was said to have been Feriach. There are though another 14 saints called Fillan, Foelan and Faelan. At least two of these came to Scotland between the 6th and 8th century AD. This has undoubtedly led to confusion, but St Fillan of Kilallan was abbot of Glendochart, Perthshire, and died in 776 AD. His feastday is generally 9th January but sometimes 19th Jan, whereas the other St Fillan was a disciple of St Columba – probably at Pittenweem – in Fife. He died in 593 AD  and is honoured on either 20th or 25th June.

   The author Donald Attwater in his work ‘A Dictionary Of Saints’, adds more to the information but, perhaps, adds to that confusion regarding the 8th century St Fillan. He says that: “Fillan was abbot of a monastery near St Andrews; was a solitary in Perthshire, and was buried in Strathfillan, also in Perthshire.”

Sources and other related websites:-

Attwater, Donald, A Dictionary Of Saints, Burns & Oates, London, 1958.

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin, London, 1986.

MacKillop, James, Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

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

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/sc-12897-killellan-kirk-and-churchyard-houston#.WE3p5C975jo

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42250/kilallan-st-fillans-church-and-churchyard

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42246/kilallan-st-fillans-well

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_and_Killellan

http://houstonvillage.co.uk/history/

http://www.guard-archaeology.co.uk/news13/kilallanNews.html

                                                                                       © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2016.

 


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St Helen’s Holy Well, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, Wales

    OS grid reference: SH 48238 62224. St Helen’s Well, also known as Ffynnon St Helen, is located close to South Road at Coed Helen, in the area called Hen Waliau (a Roman walled enclosure), which is about ½ a mile west of Llanbeblig parish church, Caernarfon. Sadly, the well has become ‘overlooked’ and ‘forgotten’ beneath a canopy of trees almost next to the main railway line that runs through a secluded cutting. Long ago a Medieval chapel called Capel Helen stood close to the well, but today all signs of that are virtually gone. The well is located on private land close to a large house. Further along the lane there is an iron gate and, from here a path runs along a raised bank beside the railway line and passes by the well. Permission “may” be needed to visit the holy well.

     The well and its associated ancient chapel were dedicated to the 4th century St Elen of Caernarfon, a Welsh princess who was the daughter of Eudaf Octavius of Ewyas in western Herefordshire, and Aurelia Carausia. She was to figure strongly in the celebrated 14th century Mabinogion Tales. In these “tales” she marries the Roman general Magnus Clemens Maximus (Macsen Wledig) after he dreams about her while stationed in Rome. He then sets out (c 383 AD) to find this beautiful young woman and, after crossing the mountains of Snowdonia, he finally finds the woman of his dream. And so begins the well-known story of Helen and Maximus. But much confusion has arisen over time because Helen and Maximus had a son called Constantine (Custennin Fendigaid), and because of that confusion has arisen with Helen of Caernarvon being mistaken for St Helena of Constantinople (d 330 AD) and her son Constantine the Great – the first Christian Roman emperor. With this in mind I should add that this Welsh Helen was the granddaughter of Constantine the Great.

    According to legend, Elen (often referred to as Elen Luyddog – Helen of the Hosts), had earlier led an army into north Wales where her father owned large areas of land, one of these being Caernarvon. Another legend states that Maximus, now made emperor in the west (including Spain where he was born), gives his wife Helen the Roman fortifications of Caerleon, Caernarvon and Carmarthen, as a wedding gift. Later, Helen and her sons Constantine and Publicius accompany Maximus to Gaul, but shortly after his return to Rome Maximus is “defeated and killed by the Emperor of the East, Theodosius” (Ashe, Geoffrey, 1976). His death probably took place at Aquileia, northern Italy (388 AD). The family later visit St Martin at Trier, according to St Gregory and St Sulpicius Severus, before travelling back to Wales – St Helen is then credited with introducing a new form of Celtic (Gaulish) monasticism into south-east Wales.

    Ffynnon St Helen was still in use up until the 1920s when local people visited it in order to be healed and they would take away bottles of its curative water, which was described as being plentiful (Hughes & North, 1924). The well stood on a raised area of land and its water was contained in a slate cistern with a flight of modern steps leading to it. Today not a great deal survives of the well’s original structure. But the water is still flowing somewhere beneath the well, certainly the sound of running water can still be heard along-side, though no structural remains are visible (Berks, Davidson & Roberts, 2005). The well site was often said to be ‘overgrown and generally abandoned’. There are apparently another five holy wells named after St Elen in Caernarfonshire! Unfortunately, we don’t know what ailments, conditions and diseases were cured by the water from Ffynnon St Helen, and we will probably never know. Over the years Roman coins have been dug up in the vicinity of the well.

    The author Francis Jones in his respected publication ‘The Holy Wells of Wales’, says of Ffynnon Helen that it is: “On the outskirts of Llanbeblig village, near the river Seiont. The ground has been raised round the well, which is now approached by a flight of modern steps: the water is still taken away in bottles for use as medicine: there is said to have been a chapel called Capel Helen near the well. St Helen is listed in ‘Lives of the British Saints’ by S. Baring Gould & J. Fisher, 1913.”

    There are at least three churches dedicated to St Elen in Caernarfon, and there are a few others named for her in Monmouthshire and west Glamorgan, while her sons have church dedications at Llanbeblig near Caernarfon and Welsh Bicknor (Llangystenin), in Hereford-shire; and the Roman road system called ‘the Sarn Helen’ is often attributed to her, although she probably had ‘no’ real connection with it,  but this might be why she is sometimes called ‘Helen of the Legions’. We learn that Helen and Maximus had other sons and daughters who are not quite so well-known: Annun (Eunan), Antonius, Dimit, St Ednyfed, Gratianna (Graciana), Severa and Victor (Gwythr). St Elen is thought to have died sometime between 390-400 AD, and she is venerated by the Church In Wales and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Wales. Her feast-day is observed on 22nd May.

Sources:

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, Paladin, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

http://www.cofiadurcahcymru.org.uk/arch/gat/english/gat_interface.html

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Helen_of_Caernarfon

http://www.geni.com/people/St-Elen-Lwyddog-of-the-Host-of-Britain/377649183480004232

http://www.traditionalharp.co.uk/Caer_Feddwyd/articles/Elen.htm

Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Lampeter, Dyfed, 1990.


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St Helen’s Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire

St Helen's Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire.

St Helen’s Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire.

     SD 9309 5704. St Helen’s holy well stands in a walled and railed-off enclosure beside Eshton Lane, tucked in between the water-works and a wooded area, about halfway between Gargrave and Rylstone – in what is the district of Craven, north Yorkshire. Skipton lies a few miles to the east. The holy well has been a sacred site, not just since the late Roman period, but ‘long’ before that. However, almost certainly it had been ‘a sacred place’ in the so-called Dark Ages when the well/spring was dedicated to St Helen, the wife of Constantius Chlorus and mother of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire Constantine the Great, who was converted to Christianity in 312 AD. St Helen, also known as Helena, died in 330 AD; she was much honoured in the west where her feast-day was celebrated on 18th August. A number of churches and holy wells were dedicated to her in the north of England and a few in the south and south-west of England.

St Helen's Well at Eshton.

St Helen’s Well at Eshton.

    In the Anglo-Saxon age and later the Medieval period it became a place of pilgrimage and healing; the water of the well having the miraculous ability to cure diseases and ailments of the body.Today the well is still ‘a sight to behold’ with the water gushing forth (often with gusto) into the circular-shaped pool – although the carved stones that apparently lie in the pool are very often well below the mud and water-level! An ancient cross was found opposite the well in the 18th century, but then it went missing, though later pieces of this were deposited in St Andrew’s church at Gargrave.

    The authors John & Phillip Dixon in ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (Volume One), say that: “The practice of regarding water, and in particular a well, as having sacred and healing qualities is well attested among the Celtic peoples. Holy wells have their origins in the pre-English period and many occur on a number of Roman sites in West and North Yorkshire. With the coming of Christianity the pagan deities to whom the wells were dedicated were converted and replaced by a Christian saint — St Helen was especially popular in those early times.

    “St Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great and said to be of Northern British origin, an ancestor of Coel Hen Godebog — the post-Roman overlord of Northern Britain who came down in legend as ‘Old King Cole’. After her conversion to Christianity she made an energetic and devout pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and founded several churches in Palestine.

    “Her popularity began to crystallize about seventy years after her death after the story went round that she was privileged to discover the cross of Christ on the site of the Passion. She is usually depicted wearing a crown and holding a long T-cross” (John & Phillip Dixon, 1990).

    It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who ‘claimed’ that St Helena was a British princess and of the family of Old King Cole, but she was, according to David Farmer in his work ‘Oxford Dictionary of Saints’, born at Drepanum (Helenopolis) in Bithynia. Maybe Geoffrey had genuinely mistaken Bithynia for Britain, or that he hoped and wanted her to originate from Britain! Her son Constantine the Great did, however, have strong associations with Britain, particularly the city of York, known as Eboracum to the Romans.

St Helen's Well at Eshton in North Yorkshire.

St Helen’s Well at Eshton in North Yorkshire.

    The water issues from a hole low down in the bank below the railings and flows into a circular shaped pool. At the front and sides of this pool (in a curved formation) there are a number of shaped stones that make up the outer perimeter of the sacred pool. Just in front of the point of entry for the water coming in there are ‘said’ to be two carved stones that resemble Celtic stone heads, but these are often covered by thick mud – and therefore not often visible – unless you feel around for them with your hands! The water goes out into a more modern drain at the side of the wall entrance. In the past devout people used to hang coloured rags on the branches of a tree, though this seems to have ceased now. There are records of a chapel existing in Chapel Field, close to the holy well but this has gone. In the 18th century an Anglo-Saxon cross was discovered opposite the well (John & Phillip Dixon, 1990), but this then to disappeared. It’s thought the carved stones in St Andrew’s church, Gargrave, are from “this” site opposite St Helen’s Well. According to John & Phillip Dixon the cross was very similar to the ones in Whalley churchyard, dating probably from the 11th century.

Sources:-

Dixon, John & Phillip., Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume One) Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Farmer, David., Oxford Dictionary Of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2003.