Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The 2010 Holy Wells Conference began at Lampeter University on 11 and 12th September, with a series of interesting talks.At 10am we had a report by Jemma Bezant from Lampeter , in which we were shown a clear photo of the Nanteos Cup, a 12th century wooden mazer bowl, known locally as the Holy Grail of Strata Florida Abbey. In a beautifully illustrated and clearly delivered lecture, we were shown aspects of the water courses and wells around Strata Florida Abbey.We learned there were several holy wells around the Abbey and she showed us the 'mandatum' in the Abbey, where pilgrims would wash etc. There was some discussion about this ,because ot its location, but there were many leats and streams from the holy wells, giving  particular blessings to the Abbey,which had a distinctly Welsh character with old British carvings .The family who owned the Nanteos Cup have put it somewhere now where it can no longer be handled, and no longer live at Nanteos House, although one member of the group remembers handling it. Following this lecture and coffee, another excellent talk by Maddy Grey on
More information about the Shrine of the Virgin Mary of Creke (Crug) which was one of the granges of Margam Abbey ( ruined by Henry VIII). In a fascinating lecture she pointed out the proximity to the Shrine of the Blessed Mary of Penrhys and how the Grange at Pendar may have been connected with Penrhys and the Chapel, and Our Lady's Holy Well which were both served by Margam.From an earlier conference of the Welsh Catholic History Society,I know a pilgrimage has come here in recent times with the Archbishop of Menevia.We also learned of a wealthy Welsh businessman with excceptional sartorial taste who had left money to the 'ymago' the statue of the Blessed Mary. It seems it was a smaller scale thing altogether than Penrhys, and we learned that in penal times, it seems infants were brought here to be secretly baptised by a local priest, while the family waited outside.The Well at the Crug has been authenticated as mediaeval and is in good order.
Father Brendan O'Malley was next on the stage with his talk about following the trail of Francis Jones in Pembrokeshire.This being the department of archeology we had vivid insights about this former Cistercian monk and his pilgrimages walking along the coast of Pembrokeshire into nooks and crannies and crags and cataloguing every well. This was an inspiring and uplifting thought, about the source of water and its link with the Holy Spirit - really inspiring.I was intrigued to read it when he said he was amazed at how local people used the wells!

Dr Jonathan Wooding,senior lecturer in Religious History at Trinity St David , as Lampeter is now known, was keen to provide a database ,using Father Brendan's work and the work of all present in finding and restoring these sites, particularly holy for Christians and others.

Anwen Roberts gave an interesting insight into who designed 15th century architecture of  Holywell and presented an interesting thesis, that while Lady Margaret Beaufort, grandmother and benefactress of St Winifrid's Shrine may have formed perhaps a big reason from protecting the place from the iconoclasm of her grandson's minions, that in fact the prime motivators, masons and carvers, probably came from Basingwork Cistercian monastery nearby.Many slides and details were shown to show similarities between the Chapel of Henry VII and other work in London and the work in Holywell. The explanations of the beautiful fan vaulting were beautiful, and the carvings in the shrine chapel of members of the Stanley Family (into which Lady Margaret had married)which were inside the chapel. An interesting and thorough insight, even into the nineteenth century 'restoration' where battlements were added, that were never there before.

Present were the Wellsprings Foundation, which works to find and restore these ancient places, Richard Suggett, who has written a book on Magic and Folklore in Wales, and gave an interesting and gripping acccount of the whole idea of cursing wells. The new Guardian of the Llaneilian Well ,Jane Beckermann has just finished an MA thesis on her well and botth disagreed slightly on the whole idea of cursing-nevertheless food for thought.

The penultimate talk was given by Father Timothy Pierce about Orthodox use of water and the use by the local community at nearby Llangybi of St Cybi's well. There were stunning pictures of the beautiful vestments around the well and the ceremony of the blessing of the water. Father Brendan also talked about plunging the Crucifix into the water, which plunged life and holiness into it and made it sacred.

I have only been able to give brief details of each speaker's offering but there were many many interesting details which I have no space to put here in a blog designed to 'whet your appetite'!

Following a brief trip to Llangybi to see this well, I tried to find Mass in Lampeter, (Llanpedr)but was unsuccessful, and sadly I found out there was not one on Sunday either!

Next morning we visited the two wells outlined above after an extremely wet night. there were between 15 to twenty people, I did not count exactly but we made for the White Hart at Llanddaron, where we were supposed to meet for coffee, sadly it was closed and the host unable to make coffee, because he was moving some pigs with his children from a field into a trailer-an interesting if sad spectacle forr a 'townie' like me.

CAPEL ERBACH is on private land and near Banc y Mansel, Porthrhyd, just a little further up the road to Swansea,a turn on the left, if coming from Camarthen. A mediaeval road ran ovver the present one through trees and past the main farm house down to the grove where the chapel was. It is important to ask permission of the owner of the property to see the well, although it is ffreely given to serious well finders.The west wall is virtually intact and has a fine arched doorway and trefoiled window, but there is not much left inside, the stream running unde rthe altar and through the centre of the chapel. Wellsprings details give this as a well which is good for sprrains and quartz pebbles werre found in the stream from the well. It was partially excavated in 1970 by the Camarthenshire Antiquarian Society ,as having a Norman door, and a niche for a statue -probably the saint to whom the chapel was dedicated -and a rill through which water flows.No well was found in the chapel but a cistern between the west door and altar fed by the stream flowing beneath. It was suggested the sick bathed both at the cistern and at the rill.There seems to be a man made conduit in the middle of the chapel frrom which the water flows. A prayer was said in the chapel, it being a Sunday and several of us (according to Christian use had to bless our rosaries in the water three times)Chapel erbach is larger than Begewdin (16ft by 35ft 6ins).

After lunch we went to Capel Begewdin which was at Wern las , Porthyrhyd. It lies deep within a wood on private land, we were lucky the owner was so happy to give permission following a visit by earlier Wellsprings members. They were, says Chris Naish, who has furnished so many of these details, (Map SN 513147) We trudged up an ancient track right over a field and saw the walls in the trees. It was so muddy , those with 'pilgrim sticks' were much safer .There were little streams all around. The ambience of the chapel was arresting and very gothic or romantic. Both Capel Erbach and Capel Begewdin were chapels of ease to nearby Llanarthne church, but both look suspiciously like early Christian llan sites or hermitages, on which later small chapels were built.It is easily accessible,but perhaps better when it has not been raining all night. Walking in increasingly boggy ground, albeit in Wellington boots is not to be recommended without a 'pilgrim stick' to steady you and - yes- you've guessed it, guess who hurtled headlong into the mud after such embarrassment. Camera, batteries etc all went askew into the mud , however, fortunately all was well again, when everything was dried off, I managed to get more pictures-good for Canon! A candle was left and we climbed up  after exclaiming at the romantic nature of the place.The talk given to Llanelli Arts Society of 1971, says the following
'It remains a fine and romantic structure where it is still possible to determine the masons' marks on the trefoil window , a niche for a statue of a saint and the site of the well. Seeing this ruin for the first time on a summer's day, one is irresistably reminded of the paintings of the pre-raphaelite movement.Cows, eglantine, wild garlic and endless briars bar ones way to this 'capel y coed'(Chapel in the wood)and one is irresistably reminded of Burne Jones 'Sir Imbrasas at the Holy Well'.If the members of the society could make the journey with their equipment, they might profitably and enjoyably record one of the great architechtural and ecclesiastical relics of the county.'
Again, nothing is known of its history or the meaning of the name 'Begewdin' but it should be recorded that the owner of the farm gives its meaning as 'the place where man was found'.

Rill in Begewdin and above at Erbach


Judith Arnopp said...

i always enjoy your blog but this one especially as i am from lampeter and know of the places you write. thank you for sharing this.


Sanctus Belle said...

Thank you so much for this and all your posts. I do follow your blog avidly. I so pray I can visit your beautiful Isle someday and visit some of these places. My husband hopes to apply for a Fulbright (sp?) scholarship someday to study in England and if he gets it I'll be in touch! Keep up the good work.