A Thousand Miles of History XXXX: Seeking sanity…

For once we had the forethought to ask the lady in the church for directions to our next port of call…the Holy Well in St Cleer. After our almost accidental visit to the Holy Well at Madron that morning, we felt we should see this one… and we were later to learn that the Mary Line runs straight through the well and the cross that stands beside it.

There is no saying how long this particular well has been venerated. The Christian rite of baptism and the shift in allegiance for the healing properties of water were a natural progression for many ancient wells where pre-Christian reverence had long held sway. Offerings have been found at our holy springs and wells going back to the earliest times, and there are thought to be over six hundred known sites still in existence here and a number of them have yielded offerings linking them to the Celtic reverence for the severed head. It is interesting, in that case, to consider that we still use the term ‘well head’…

Researching St Cleer’s Well threw up some interesting snippets. It seems there is some debate about whether the village was named after St Clarus to whom the church is dedicated. Clarus’ Feast day is November 4th , which is also the Feast of St. Clether, who is also known as Cleer and Clederus. St Clether was the son of King Brychan Brycheiniog, who ruled in south Wales and his brother was St Nectan, whose hermitage still exists, in one of the most magical and beautiful of glens, close to Tintagel, where King Arthur is said to have been born. Clether ruled the area around Nevern after his father’s death, and fathered twenty sons.  We had seen the memorial to Maelgwn, one of his sons… the Maglicu stone… when we had visited St Brynach’s church in Nevern. When St Brynach brought the early Christian message to his court, Clether abdicated and himself became a hermit. Perhaps St Clarus was not ‘St Cleer’ after all?

Then again, there is the possibility that the village was named for St Clare, the spiritual sister of St Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares who had a religious house in the area and to whom the well may have belonged at some point. Most likely though is that the village was named after the Knight, Ingelram de Bray of St Clair sur Epte, who built the new church in the village in 1250 when he married the heiress of the Manor of Rosecraddoc. It was Ingleram who first built a housing for the Holy Well, which stood until it was destroyed during Cromwell’s war on idolatry almost four hundred years ago.

The well was in ruins and many tried to carry off its stones, but wherever they were moved, they were always restored overnight by some mysterious force, or so the story goes. It is well known that the fairies frequent these places and you do not want to anger the Fae!

In 1864, it was restored…without removing the stones… by Henry Rogers as a memorial to his grandfather, Reverend John Jope, who had been vicar of the parish for sixty-seven years. His household staff remembered him too and local legend has it that they would never kill a spider as they believed the vicar’s spirit to be present within them!

What remains now is the restoration of a fifteenth century well-house with a cross from the same date standing beside it. There was once a cistern and bathing pool too, though of these there is now no trace. The waters were reputed to be able to cure the lame, the blind and the insane. Within the well-house was a ‘bowsening’ pool. The term is obscure but probably relates to a nautical term referring to pulling something up with a hoist or tackle, which gives a hint of how it might have been done…

An old account of bowsening at another sacred spring dedicated to a Christian saint tells of how the person suffering from insanity would be violently pushed into the water a number of times, until the cold and shock subdued them. They would then be taken to the church where Masses would be said for them. If a cure ensued, the saint under whose aegis this was performed would get the credit. If not…it was back to the pool, and this would continue until a cure was assured, or until the poor lunatic died of his ordeal.

Thankfully, the pool was covered during its restoration and only relatively recently partially reopened. It is now kept covered by a metal grille, through which the clear water can be seen… at any time when the country is not suffering a drought. There was very little moisture in evidence when we visited… for which we are grateful as it means that our particular form of lunacy could not be cured…

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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24 Responses to A Thousand Miles of History XXXX: Seeking sanity…

  1. History is fascinating and so are the so called thought processes behind the belief that violence could possibly cure illnesses. Wonderful post Sue


    • Sue Vincent says:

      There were more ancient practices to treat illness that were somewhat less violent… this ne is just plain wrong…but then, give it a few hundred years and doubtless surgery as we know it will seem barbaric.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    From Sue:

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on silverapplequeen and commented:
    Another place of beauty

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patty says:

    Reblogged this on Campbells World.


  5. I love the bit about the wells being on the Mary line and not angering the fey…which are none too happy next door at the moment since my neighbors decided to clearcut their front yard. Sigh ❤


  6. Rebloged on Twitter, Google and LinkedIn.I think that in times when we did not have psychologists and psychiatrists, people were fearful of those especially with mental illness. The people really didn’t have very good ways of dealing with such things, and perhaps shock treatment was the best they could come up with. Today it is nearly as bad here in the U.S. because almost daily, people seem to go off their rockers, and then some violence happens between them and some innocent bystander, the police, or perhaps another agitated person. We never know when we go out into the public anymore whether we will be OK or not. Mostly what we do is set out minds to a positive state, and then try hard to keep our mental state positive while we are out. It is always easy to envision bad things happening, and a genuine challenge to stay as rocks in some of those old ruins when everyone else seems to be losing their heads.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      Menatl illness has seldom been well handled and still carries with it a social stigma, despite a better understanding these days. It is a pity that we have not learned to treat those who suffer from mental illness a little gentler by now.


  7. Adele Marie says:

    I remembered hearing about St. Clare as a child and was surprised to find that in 1958, by the Pope of that time, she was promoted to the patron St. of television. This was because when she was too ill to attend mass, she said she could see and hear the mass on her wall. hmm. xxx


  8. Jennie says:

    Just wonderful!


  9. willowdot21 says:

    So interesting Sue and such fabulous photo. Heaven forefend anything cure you of your lunicy.. I for one who miss you fabulous posts.


  10. noelleg44 says:

    Wonderful stories, Sue. I had to go and read about Nevern, too. Thinking of the age of those crosses and stones is awe-inspiring.


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