Holy wells

St Ruan well 02Cornwall abounds with springs which provide water throughout the year, even during the driest spells. Many of these have been ‘captured’ and turned into wells.

It is easy to guess at the sequence: a hole was dug near a spring to provide a basin of water; perhaps a stone was put over it and some steps were added to make access easier (Carn Euny); a small shelter was put over the top to protect the spring from the weather and rubbish (St Ruan); eventually the well houses became more elaborate and needed a door with a lock (Dupath) to restrict access by ‘undesirables’.

Not all these wells were necessarily holy, many having simply served their local communities, but they have become so through tradition. It is a good question as to why some of these were venerated more than others.

The best are set around with hawthorn or blackthorn.

Many have been ‘re-discovered’ as spiritual sites in the late 20th century and have attracted collections of votive offerings. Madron well, for instance, was once a lonely place in a thorn grove. At times it is now like a ticker-tape reception with obscure offerings attached to the surrounding trees.

There is a map of holy wells here.

A journey through the landscape and history of Cornwall