Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another Word on Wells

In Wales, natural springs always had an aura of holiness. When Christianity began to take over from Druidism and the Christian evangelists began to win souls for Christ. they were used for baptism. Converts, who moved to the light of the Faith understood that the water itself was holy. and so there was some belief growing up that the water itself had healing qualities, which could cure certain illnesses and conditions. This as we know now would also depend on the chemical content of the water, but who is to say God did not order this too.

Springs of pure water welling eternally with water seemed, as David Williams says, to be emanations from a mysterious world and they exhorted fear and veneration in early peoples . The Christians were quick to build on this and used the springs for baptism . There were many centuries before this rite of Baptism was taken into church. Many churches were built near to Springs and shared dedications to their saints as at Bedwas (St Barrwg of Barry)Bedwellty (Sannan-the fire god-re-dedicated to St Anne)Bryngwyn (St Peter)Govilon (dedicated to St Patrick-the only Gwentian dedication)Llangybi (Cybi) and St Maugham (St Mawgan) near Monmouth. Indeed the spring at St Maughams was used to wash and lay out Catholics in recusant times, before the bodies were buried after dark in the churchyard. Skenfrith had three springs, St Brides, near the church of the same name ,St Noes, (St Noyes) near the chapel which once stood at the west of the village and the Priests Well in Darren Wood.This started a stream considered highly beneficial.

Skenfrith Springs

Locally the water is known to be slightly red and it was believed it was coloured red by a Catholic decapitated there in the time of terrible persecution. This was thought to happen, because the then princely sum of £5 was offered to anyone who would betray a Catholic priest found in the county on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I. All priests had to leave by St John's Day (27.12.1559) or change their missal for the Book of Common Prayer, incomprehensible at that time to the Welsh speakers, who could not read or write English, and who felt it a further attack on Welsh culture.Franciscan friars who lived near Rockfield at Perthir (Llanoronwy) also believed this because they made a yearly pilgrimage to the well. A similar tradition of stones, stained by a martyr's blood also appled at St Michael's Well at Rockfield.

Ffynnon Issui-Ishow's Well

There is a similar tratiion here.Country people still tie twigs on the coping of St Ishow's Well and throw coins into the water.

Pwlmeyrick Well-Ffynnon Pwll-Meurig

This well near Mathern was reputed strongly to bring about miracles. In addition, the Welsh historian, Nenius had this to say about it

There is a spring by the wall of Pydew Meurig and there
is a plank in the middle of the springand men may wash their hands
and their faces and stand on the plank when they wash. I have tested it and seen it myself.
When the sea floods at high tide, the Severnspreads over the whole shore and
touches it, and reaches into the spring, and the spring is filled from the Severn Bore
and draws the plank with it to the open seaand it is cast about in the sea for three days,but
on the fourth day, it is found at the same spring. Now it came to pass, that a countryman
buried it in the ground to test it, and on the fourth day it was found in the spring
and the countryman who took it and buried it died before the end o the month
Superstition for us today, but very real for those who felt this was almost testing God himslef who had made the well. Such wells were often built with small chapels which became known as Baptisteries,
Ffynnon Oer at St Maughams
The 12 century Book of Llandaff (Liber landavensis) tells the following story of the Well at St Maughams(St Mawgan) Rhiwallon ap Tudfwlch was riding off after plundering churchgoers and a great fish leapt out of the Ffynnon Oer (Cold Spring) startling his horse and making him break his arm. He gave up some land to the diocese and gave back his haulThe well became a landmark on its boundaries 'The fish represented the pagan spirit of the well' says Francis Jones and ' here, under the influence of priests it has been metamorphosised into a Guardian of the Church'
Medicinal Qualities
It was believed many wells possessed medicianal qualities.People filled their small water bottles from the Priests well just as pilgrims to Lourdes did today.
The well of MAteriana, in its natual state as seen in the photos at the bottom of the blog, is the natural stste of how most wells would look and would be the place of baptism for the local priests living in the Celtic monastery or its church. Mst of our fonts only at the earliest stem from Saxon times. The early church in Gwent used the natural springs and rivers they were used to from earlier times. There are many many such interesting stories of Wells. Please check out the book The Folklore of Monmouthshire for the full text of this interesting subject.
It has been worthwhile talking about the wells because the Rite of Baptism would have taken place here, rather as in the tradition of the Apostles. The water would have been consecrated to Almighty God.

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