Holy Wells

Devon has over 300 Holy Wells and Springs. According to the website insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.com

“A holy well, or sacred spring, is a small body of water emerging from underground and revered either in a Pagan or Christian context, often both. Holy wells were frequently pagan sacred sites that later became Christianized. The term ‘holy well’ is commonly employed to refer to any water source of limited size (i.e. not a lake or river, but including pools and natural springs and seeps), which has some significance in the folklore of the area where it is located, whether in the form of a particular name, an associated legend, the attribution of healing qualities to the water through the numinous presence of its guardian spirit or Christian saint, or a ceremony or ritual centred on the well site. In Christian legend, the water is often said to have been made to flow by the action of a saint, a familiar theme especially in the hagiography of Celtic saints.”

Although I knew about Holy Wells and Springs I had not really looked until researching pilgrimages quite how many there were even in Devon. In lockdown, I was able to find several within a 10 mile radius of my home. There was even one in the next village, which although visiting the village hundreds of times, I never knew of its existence. I thus used a few of the wells as start points or destinations on my walks. I am interested how they differ, some are tranquil places in the ground of churches, some by the sides of roads and in one case on the drive of a house. The tranquility they offer varies, but the ones where I have found time to contemplate to connect with the landscape are those connected to churches. However the ones that I find interesting are the forgotten ones.

Some wells visitors leave ribbons or rags, which does offer some connection with the thought that people have been before you, it does not really fit with environmental matters. I am currently investigating what could be left maybe pine cones something similar to the scallop shell carried or left by pilgrims.

scallop shells on pilgrimage


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