The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Anne’s Well, Kilmesantan, Co.Dublin

Irish grid reference: O1020 2161. The holy well is located to the east of the Upper Bohernabreen Lake (reservoir) along a path which winds through fields that are often muddy and rough some 250 yards to the north of Kilmesantan, in the Glenasmole Valley, 4 miles south of Tallaght. Originally dedicated to a Celtic bishop called St Santan or Sentan, but later re-dedicated to St Anne. Today the well is still a place of pilgrimage to many local people; it has a rough-walled granite surround and an arched roof with a large ash tree leaning over it, making it hard to find at the best of times. There also is a figurine of St Anne standing inside what looks like a caged structure, probably so that she doesn’t get nicked!

The well was always visited on St Anne’s feast-day 26th July for its curative properties; the water was known to be clear and cold coming from deep in the ground. It was regarded as a cure for soreness of the eyes and stomach aches etc – bottles of the water being taken away by pilgrims to be handed out amongst their families no doubt. The water from the well is said to run into the Upper Bohernabreen reservoir a short distance to the west.

250 yards to the south at Glassamucky is the old graveyard of Kilmesantan (O1015 2142) with a ruined church inside the square-shaped low walls. Originally the 13th century church which stands on the site of an earlier Celtic church, was dedicated to a St Santan, Sanctan or Sentan, a 5th century Celtic bishop and son of the king of Britain (Coel of Strathclyde?), according to the Book of Leinster, but who was also a missionary at Kirksantan, Isle of Man, and in north Wales at Llansannan, near Llangernyw, where he has a church dedication, and also at Llantrisant, Anglesey.

Only the south-east wall still stands, the rest of the building consists of foundation stones in a rectangular pattern among the gravestones. In more recent times the church was re-dedicated to St Anne. We know that the nave measured 16 by 36 feet, the chancel was 12 feet long and the walls a staggering 3 foot thick. Beside the gate there is a stone font, now broken at the back, that is over 2 foot high and 3 foot square, with a depth of nearly 1 foot. This was probably the font from the church and could be quite old. A crude Celtic stone cross was found in the graveyard some while back; it now resides in the National Museum of Ireland at Dublin.


St Edith’s Well, Kemsing, Kent

Os grid ref: TQ5547 5868. St Edith’s Well can be found close to the High Street in Kemsing, Kent, 3 miles from Sevenoaks. Built into a wall at the side of the street there is a plaque with an inscription, and in the garden behind is the famous holy well of St Edith of Kemsing, a 10th century Saxon nun. She was, according to legend, the illegitimate daughter of King Edgar and Queen Wulfthryth. The restored and nicely-kept well has a rather odd-shaped walled structure surrounding it and a metal grill covering the water. Some steps descend down into the well which, it was claimed, had miraculous healing powers; indeed soreness and irritation of the eyes has been cured here and the well has been a place of pilgrimage since medieval times.

St Edith's Well, Kemsing On junction of St Edi...

St Edith’s Well, Kemsing, Kent (Photo credit: David Anstiss (Geograph)

On the wall plaque at the front of the well the inscription reads:- “St Edith of Kemsing AD 961-984. This well lay within the precincts of the convent where St Edith, daughter of King Edgar passed her childhood, and hallowed by her presence its waters became a source of healing”. The town’s signboard shows Edith as a young girl leaning over her well.

There is, however, some uncertainty about St Edith’s life. It seems she spent her childhood in a convent in Kemsing, but when she was older she was sent to a convent at Wilton where she remained until her death in 984 AD. She always refused to become the abbess of Wilton, or any other religious house, leaving the position at Wilton (c978) to her mother, Wulfthryth, instead. Edith would not even consider becoming queen upon her mother’s death, even though she was put under great pressure.

We know that a number of miracles were wrought by her great holiness, but austerity and devotion to God was always at the forefront of her time as a nun. She was also known for her charities to the poor and for her love of wild animals. After her death at the fairly young age of 23 miracles occured at her tomb and a shrine was set up in Kemsing to which pilgrimages were established, with her well a focus of healing. Her feast-day is held on 16th September and a procession still takes place in the town on that day.

References:

Photo by David Anstiss:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Edith%27s_Well,_Kemsing_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1256275.jpg

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

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012 (up-dated 2019).

 

 


St Non’s Well, Caerfai, Pembrokeshire

SM7510 2437. On the windswept headland at Caerfai, 1 mile south of St David’s overlooking St Non’s Bay, is St Non’s holy well, a place of great sanctity to the Welsh people. Here, according to the Legend, in about 500 AD Non, daughter of Cynyr, prince of Pembrokeshire, gave birth to her son St David, patron St of Wales, in somewhat miraculous circumstances during a thunderstorm when she was pursued here by Sant of Ceredigion, the probable father of her child. At the moment of the birth Non leaned upon a stone into which she pressed her fingers (these marks can still be seen in one of the stones close by the well). The stone apparently split in two when it was hit by lightning. At the very moment of the child’s birth a spring of water gushed forth from the ground (St Non’s Well). But, in fact, we know that the well predates Christianity – it is a naturally formed spring that was here when the land was geologically formed. The remains of a Bronze-Age stone circle or cromlech can still be seen around the well – strong evidence that this was once a pagan site.

St Non’s Holy Well, Pembrokeshire

The well has an 18th century plain-vaulted stone hood above it which replaced an earlier medieval well-housing. Today the well is used mainly as a wishing well but pilgrims still come here, as they have for hundreds of years, in the hope of a miraculous cure for many diseases and ailments were apparently cured here by the water – such diverse things like child-bearing and eye complaints. Reputedly the water in the well ebbs and flows with the tides. Behind the well is a shrine with a statue of St Non? inside a stone niche. The well-kept shrine is often adorned with flowers put here by Catholics who visit the nearby retreat centre and modern chapel dedicated to St Non.

A short distance to the south-west stands a ruined medieval chapel. Leaning up against the south-west facing wall is a 7th century stone with an incised Latin ring cross. Originally this stone was embedded into the eastern wall. The chapel went out of use following the Reformation and may have been in use as a house at some point. An archaeological dig inside the ruin found roofing tiles, pottery, stone coffins and a medieval brass with the figure of a priest engraved onto it.