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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Holy wells and sacred springs

Last night I was reading Francis Jones's book called "Treasury of Historic Pembrokeshire" -- and in it there is a transcript of a lecture he gave in 1969 -- called "The Holy Wells of Pembrokeshire."  By "wells" he means "wells and springs" -- and indeed there are hardly any deep wells in Pembrokeshire of the sort that needed buckets and ropes, since the water table is in general very close to the surface.  So the main image is one of a small pool fed by an underground spring or source -- the word "ffynnon" is usually used in Welsh.  Major Francis Jones (he liked to be called MAJOR Jones) counted 236 wells in Pembrokeshire, and classified them into a number of different types, by names (saints' names are often used), locations etc.

This all brought into mind the fun and games which we all had when Profs Wainwright and Darvill claimed that the area around Carn Meini was renowned for its concentration of healing springs -- and used this as a rationale for the hypothesis that if the waters were sacred in the area, then so were the rocks, thus explaining why the local bluestone was invested with sanctity and was greatly valued.  "Nonsese", said I.  "Pure fabrication!"  And this sentiment was shared with others, such as Robin Heath, who know eastern Preseli well.

Unfortunately Major Jones does not publish a map of the 236 springs (sacred and otherwise) in Pembrokeshire, but from going through his text there is no mention of any sacred spring in the neighbourhood of Carn Meini -- and indeed, compared with other parts of Pembrokeshire sacred springs in NE Pembrokeshire are pretty thin on the ground.  In general, the sacred springs are associated with monastic or early Christian settlements, and the great majority of them are in the lowlands.  In the uplands, springs are so common that nobody attached any great significance to them, or even bothered to give them names.  So there 'tis then.......


(I'm sorry I have been neglecting this blog lately -- been preoccupied in trying to get my latest novel into print in time for Easter.  That means lots of hassle dealing with printers, bookshops, getting PR info out to the trade etc etc.  But now everything is on schedule....)


chris johnson said...

Thanks for coming back to this subject. I just ordered a copy of the Holy Wells of Wales (2nd hand from Canada!).

Saw today that a couple of guys from themodernantiquarian are organizing a summer expedition to Carn Meini to look for wells.

chris johnson said...

Afterthought - I ordered the book not the lecture and there is supposed to be a map. If so I'll scan it for you - the book itself is out of print it seems but is said to be a classic.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- I'll appreciate the map if you can scan it..... i have never got round to getting a copy of that book for myself.

If our friends from the Modern Antiquarian set off on their intrepid expedition, they will undoubtedly have great success. There are springs everywhere -- some marked on the map, but most unmarked.

Phil M. said...

Can someone explain to Phil the Dafty how you submit a pcture, such as a scanned map, to the blog, please.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hmmm -- not sure that you can on Blogger. But never fear -- I will do it for you from operational HQ. Just send it as an Email attachment to brianjohn4"at"



chris johnson said...

Hi Brian,
read today that Prof Darvill rebutted the glaciation theory "scientifically and vehemently" in his speech at CAlive a few days ago. It was reported on The heritage journal - did you hear anything about this?

BRIAN JOHN said...

News to me -- let's see the colour of his evidence....

Anonymous said...


"They call me mellow yellow"


chris johnson said...

Amazing world we live in - the book arrived today from Canada from David Craig in day 3 - standard post. Now I can look forward to reading this weekend.

The map is 1954 style and accurate to within 50 miles or so - not much point scanning.

chris johnson said...

I finished my first read of Holy Wells of Wales by Francis Jones and a great read it is. I will be keeping it as a companion.

Brian, you will be fascinated I think. He tells a lot of folklore in a sensible and credible way. I heard a new story about Frenni Fawr which is a particular interest of mine.

I had not realized the extent to which the well cult was alive and kicking in Wales until recent times - large numbers of people visiting, looking for cures and divination, cursing their enemies, looking for marriage partners, etc, etc. There are regular associations with megaliths and I can understand why this aspect has fired the imagination of the learned professors.

I know this post has died a death but I wanted to recommend this book to our little community. It is reassuring to know you are still collecting folklore.