WELLS IN DEPTH - Tristan Gray Hulse
The name is found in a number of variant forms: Diheufyr, Diefer, Deifer, Dihaer, Dier, Diar (Baring-Gould and Fisher 1908, p.340). The form adopted here is simply that used by Francis Jones, in his various references to the well (Jones 1954, pp.90, 105, 178). The placename Bodfari has also been thought to contain the saint's name: the name appears to mean the house (bod) of Tyfaru or Dyfaru, the latter being an unexplained variant (?pet form) of the name of the saint (Egerton Phillimore, in Owen 1936, p.524) - but this is far from certain (cf. Davies 1959, p.11).
|2.||NLW MS 3290D, unpaginated. Jones appears not to have known this source. The only other thing of interest given by Owen in his MS note is that by 1890, when he visited the site of the well, it was known locally as Ffynnon Ddiol (diol, special), which, as he plausibly suggested, was probably no more than a corruption of Ffynnon Ddeier.|
In fact, given the evidence that Ffynnon Ddeier is mentioned in Falconer,
and in Fleetwood's
1713 annotations to Metcalf's Life, it is not impossible or implausible that the well was
still being visited by Catholics at that period, more or less as part of the overall
pilgrimage to Holywell. Besides Holywell itself, pilgrims to St Winifred's Well regularly
visited the site of her grave, at Gwytherin, in Denbighsire; a practice which continued
into the nineteenth century. In Browne Willis' account of the diocese of St Asaph, first
published in 1720, we learn of a further sacred site visited by Holywell pilgrims en route
from Holywell to Gwytherin, St Mary's Well, near St Asaph, which is only some three and a
half miles from Bodfari.
We know that Ffynnon Ddeier was still being visited by local people in the episcopacy of one of Fleetwood's successors at St Asaph, Bishop Maddox (1736-43), just as we know that the Holywell pilgrims continued to travel across Denbighshire to Gwytherin. In performing this journey they were following the traditional route taken by Winifred in her lifetime, the outline of which was given by Robert of Shrewsbury, and the memory of which is still alive in parts of Denbighshire to the present day. The aim of this extra pilgrimage, it seems clear, was deliberately to follow the original route of St Winifred; what more natural then, than that the pilgrims would include in their itinerary a devotional visit to the only other holy well mentioned in the Vita Wenefredae? However, it must still be remembered that there is no actual mention of any such devotional visits.
It is fascinating to note just how much information relative to Welsh holy wells was
available to a nineteenth-century Belgian Jesuit, more than seventy years before the
appearance of Francis Jones' essential book. In a twenty-four page appendix (Of
St Winifred's Well at Holywell, and of its cult and of the miracles reported to have
happened there) to his De Sancta Wenefreda, Père de Smedt begins (§1
- De fontibus sacris generatim) by noting the existence of the very many
celebrated sacred wells in Wales, named for the saints, which were formerly the resort of
Christians honouring these saints and seeking their health.
Such wells in North Wales are noted in Samuel Lewis' topographical dictionary [I] under the entries for their towns or villages, and indicated by the names of their patron saints; to wit, in the county of Flintshire, Caerwys (St Michael) and Holywell (St Winifred). In Denbighshire: Wigfair [Cefn Meiriadog] (St Mary), Llanrhudd [Ruthin] (St Peter), Llandegla (St Tecla), Llanrhaiadr yn Cinmeirch (St Dyfnog), Prion (St Dyfnog) [though Prion is actually a hamlet in the parish of Llanrhaiadr, Lewis has entries for both, and mentions Ffynnon Ddyfnog under both, leading de Smedt to duplicate the well, as noted below, similar kinds of mistakes were made by Francis Jones]; to which may be added from Thomas Pennant, Dyserth or Llansantffraid [actually in Flintshire, while the well itself is actually in Cwm] (St Asaph) [II] and Cegidog or St George (St George) [III]. In Anglesey: Llanallgo (St Gallgo), Llandyfrydog (St Cybi or Chebius [a nameform he takes from Robert of Shrewsbury, and though the nameforms may in essence be identical, the personages involved are certainly not] and St Seiriol), Llaneilian (St Eilian). In Caernarfon: Llanbedrog (God's Well), Bryncroes (St Mary), Clynnog Fawr (St Beuno), Llanberis (St Peris), Llanddeiniolen (St Deiniolen), Llanaelhaiarn (St Aelhaiarn), Llangybi (St Cybi), Llanllyfni (St Rhedyw). In Meirionydd: Bettws Gwerfil Goch (St Mary), Dolgellau (St Mary), Llandrillo (St Trillo), Llanenddwyn (St Enddwyn), Llangower (St Gwawr). In Montgomeryshire: Garthbeibio (St Tydecho), Llanerfyl (St Erfyl), Llangadfan (St Cadfan).
I. Topographical Dictionary of Wales.
II. Pennant, Tours in Wales, vol. II, p.117.
This impressive total, along with the willingness of the Bollandist to plough through Lewis' two weighty volumes, gives a clear indication of the depth and thoroughness of de Smedt's research; it indicates, too, that Lewis is an important source of information about such Welsh sacred wells as survived into the nineteenth century (and though it is to be noted that Lewis was an incorrigible plagiarist, and regularly recycled the words of other authors without attribution, he at least brought together a mass of otherwise often unnoticed information).
|5.||In a footnote on p.341 the authors note that there is, or was, a Ffynnon Dyfr in the parish of Abergele, which, they judge, appears to have been named for the same saint. This well is not noticed by Francis Jones.|
The boundary siting of Ffynnon Mihangel led Francis Jones to make an understandable but
potentially confusing mistake. Edward Lhuyd's Parochialia (i.e. parish
notes) was compiled from detailed questionnaires sent to the clergy of Welsh
parishes, inquiring into their history, antiquities, and local lore. Given its position on
the boundary between Bodfari and Caerwys, and although recognised as the sacred well of
Caerwys (Bodfari had its own in Ffynnon Ddeier), both incumbents quite naturally reported
the healing cult at Ffynnon Mihangel (Lhuyd 1909,
pp.67-8 [Caerwys], p.70 [Bodfari]). Unfamiliar with North Welsh topography, and presented
with two separate accounts, Jones unfortunately duplicated the well, and located
Ffynhonnau Mihangel in both Caerwys and Bodfari (Jones
1954, p.179) - leading this researcher, at least, before he spotted the mistake, to
spend numbers of fruitless hours over several years questioning the inhabitants of Bodfari
as to the whereabouts of their St Michael's Well!
A similar chain of printed circumstances led Jones to locate another well in two counties: Ff. Ddeiniol. In Bangor Monachorum parish, in Denbighshire (Jones 1954, p.172) and Ff. Daniel. In Bangor Is-y-coed parish, in Flintshire (Jones 1954, p.178). Bangor-is-y-coed, sometimes called Bangor on Dee, is in Flintshire (currently, County of Wrexham). Its antiquarian name, Bangor Monachorum, stems ultimately from the stories reported by Bede, about its abbot's dealings with Augustine, and its annihilation at the Battle of Chester.
William Cathrall (who is another important source of information on Welsh holy wells) wrote:
In Lewis this becomes:
Cathrall's very romantic rock, which is probably to be identified with the Kr[aig] Mihangel (St Michael's Rock) noted by Lhuyd as being tan y dre (below the town, Lhuyd 1909, p.67), is equally probably the cliff rising above the well. The name seems to be lost, but a natural hole or niche in the cliff-face immediately above the well is still pointed out locally as the place where St Michael's image formerly stood. This tradition was apparently preserved as a piece of local oral lore, and only appeared in print as late as 1974, in Margaret Lewis Ellis' account of Caerwys wells (see Lewis Ellis (1974). If it is genuinely old, it may be that it is in fact a corruption of a much earlier tradition which told of an apparition of St Michael at the spot - the cult of St Michael in the West was substantially promoted by a number of relatively early accounts of visions of St Michael, on Monte Gargano, in Italy, and on Mont S-Michel, in Normandy, where in both instances he is associated with cliffs and mountains (rocks), caves or crypts (the hole in the rock), and miraculous healing springs. A notice of the church erected on the site of the Normandy apparition, at the time of which the Mount was still part of Celtic Brittany, by the visionary bishop St Aubert appears in numbers of medieval Welsh chronicles (for instance, Brenhinedd y Saesson has, under the year 717: D.CC.XVII. the church of Michael was consecrated - Jones 1971, p.7), and, unusually, the feast of this apparition, 16th October, was observed as a patronal festival at a number of Welsh churches, including one near to Caerwys, at Cilcain (Lhuyd 1909, p.79), is the single witness of this fact. Ffynnon Mihangel is one of a discrete group of toponyms (including two further Michael wells, at Cilcain and Trelawnydd (Jones 1954, p.179) and another Michael's Hill or Rock in Tremeirchion) which suggests a strong localised cult of St Michael in this small area of North Wales in the early middle ages. Liber Landavensis charters note the existence of Michael churches in South Wales by the tenth century, and Michael was the first non-Celtic saint to have churches dedicated to him in Wales. Caerwys and Cilcain churches, if perhaps not Trelawnydd, were founded in the pre-Norman period. Whether or not an apparition was ever believed to have been seen at Caerwys, the Caerwys Ffynnon Mihangel undoubtedly played a part in establishing devotion to the Archangel so strongly in this part of Flintshire.
Despite its inclusion in Parochiale Wallicanum as an extinct capella (Wade-Evans 1910, p.100), it seems improbable that any chapel ever stood by Ffynnon Mihangel. The well is a natural pool of water formed by several springs rising at the foot of a cliff at the bottom of a narrow precipitously-sided wooded gorge. The Royal Commission Inventory inspectors described it as a natural basin of limestone, about twelve feet across East and West, and twenty feet North and South, in which the water collects from the springs above, the spring within the basin adding its quota (Inventory 1912, p.9). Unfortunately only the springs rising in the basin are now in evidence. That Lhuyd failed to mention the chapel is probably conclusive evidence against it.
|7.||Jones (1954) mentions numbers of other wells which functioned as boundary marks in his text, particularly on pp.55-7; but these indexed eleven, taken from his gazetteer, may function as convenient and typical exempla.|
|8.||Elichguid, Jones (1954) suggests (p.55: not p.35, as misprinted in the entry for Ff. Elichguid on p.194 of the gazetteer), is to be identified with the Monmouthshire saint of this name who witnessed three charters in the Liber [Landavensis]. Here he is probably following Baring-Gould and Fisher, who have an entry for Elichguid (Baring-Gould and Fisher (1908), p.444) but as Elichguid's saintly status is suggested solely by this named well, whether or not the eponym is to be identified with the Landavensis signatory is hardly to the point. Solely on this kind of circular evidence, which is all there is, neither the sanctity of Elichguid nor the sacred nature of this particular well can be established, any more than the various Ffynhonnau Arthur can be taken to demonstrate that all or any of them necessarily commemorate King Arthur, or that even if so Arthur was therefore necessarily an historical character, or that he or any other Arthur, historical or otherwise, was ever considered a saint.|
|9.||In fact, Jones prints an outrageously complicated and comprehensive tradition about Nine Wells, which he gathered locally from an oral source (Jones 1954, p.26). No single element of this farrago can seemingly be witnessed independently, and as parts of it demonstrate a crucial misunderstanding of the function of cromlechau ( here, presented as an altar for the annual sacrifice of virgins!), the whole may be dismissed as the antiquarian romancing of the literate culture which has in comparatively recent times bled out to form elements of the contemporary oral lore available to Jones' informant.|
As already noted, Jones' pioneering work began as his doctoral thesis, and was based
almost entirely, and of necessity, upon library and archival research, though there is
also evidence of some small amount of field work in SW Wales (cf. for example note 9).
Thus, at least a further four Mary wells may be added to Jones' total, from personal
Mary wells exhibiting some form of confirmation of cult are as follows:
Ffynnon Fair, Aberdaron (Jones 1954, pp.149-50): origin legend; associated chapel, Capel Mair; prayer/charm ritual; liminal situation in shallow cave on cliff-face, where the well is covered by the sea at each high tide.
Ff. Fair, Llanbedrog (Jones 1954, p.150): cure of any human or animal complaint; well ritual to detect the identity of thieves.
Ff. Fair, Llanfairfechan (Jones 1954, p.150): pins offered; bewitched articles bathed to remove curses.
Ff. Fair, Beddgelert (Jones 1954, p.150): according to the Caernarfonshire antiquary Myrddin Fardd [J. Jones], local tradition attributed a multitude of magical virtues, lawer o rinweddau swyngyfareddol, to the well (Fardd 1908, pp.170-1).
Thus, of the five Caernarfon wells dedicated to our Lady noticed by Jones, all five have corroborative traditions of full sacral status - 5/5.
Ff. Fair, Llangynllo (Jones 1954, p.158): curative - 1/7.
Ff. Fair, Kidwelly (Jones 1954, p.46, p.165): pins offered; visited on Lady Day; peculiar local legend of the martyrdom of our Lady within the parish, though apparently not specifically in connection with the well.
Ff. Fair, Llangeler (Jones 1954, p.165): probably associated with the chapel called Capel Mair - 2/4.
Ff. Fair, Cefn Meiriadog (Jones 1954, p.174): well-chapel; pilgrimage at Assumption-tide; fair; cures.
Ff. Fair, Llanrhaeadr (Jones 1954, p.174): close to Ff. Ddyfnog, and thus possibly associated in some way with that once-popular curative and pilgrimage well; the waters of both springs collect together in a single large bath - 2/6
Ff. Fair, Bodrhyddan Hall, Rhuddlan (Jones 1954, p.179): the fact is not noted by Jones, but its substantial baroque reconstruction, (traditionally attributed to Inigo Jones, though the style is too late to be actually his), with a large exterior bath, argues for its continued cultic use in the post-Reformation period) - 1/8.
Ff. Fair, St George (Jones 1954, p.181): reputed to possess great restorative powers.
Ff. Fair, Monknash (Jones 1954, p.181): near an old chapel.
Ff. Fair, Penrhys (Jones 1954, p.6, p.19, p.47, p.60, pp.93-4, p.182): holy well closely associated with the premier Marian sanctuary in Wales - 3/14.
Ff. Fair, Llanenddwyn (Jones 1954, p.191): cured rheumatism.
Ff. Fair, Dolgellau (Jones 1954, p.191): cured rheumatism.
Ff. Fair, Llanfair (Jones 1954, p.46, p.191): legend of origin - 3/8.
Lady's Well, Tredegar (Jones 1954, p.194): a bath-house constructed there in 1719 argues for a healing cult, but, it seems possible that it was originally named for St Gwladys - 1/1.
Ff. Fair/St Mary's Well, Llanfair Caereinion (Jones 1954, pp.197-8): curative - 1/4.
Ff. Fair, Maenclochog (Jones 1954, p.16, p.207): curative; associated in local tradition with a nearby ruined cromlech.
St Mary's Well, St Davids (Jones 1954, p.207): immediately outside the cathedral, where in the middle ages there was a cult of our Lady as Mary of Menevia.
St Mary's Well, Angle (Jones 1954, p.207): near the site of St Mary's Chapel - 3/15.
Ff. Fair, Rhaeadr (Jones 1954, p.216): cured eye complaints; visited regularly by courting couples, who drank sugared water there - 1/1.
Of the two remaining counties, Breconshire has a single Mary well, Ff. Fair, Patrishow (Jones 1954, p.144) which lacks any form of tradition beyond the name. While the Ffynhonnau Fair on Anglesey (Jones 1954, p.141, p.143) are more commonly known by other names, and the Marian dedication is therefore uncertain.
This is also the case with other Mary wells. For instance, all that Jones found to note regarding Ff. Fair, Gwyddelwern, Meirionydd (Jones 1954, p.191), was that it was alternatively known as Ff. Gwern Beuno (the Well of St Beuno's Alder-grove, or, of St B's Swamp), Ff. Wen, and Ff. Isa (Lower Well). Gwyddelwern features prominently in Buchedd Beuno, the Welsh Life of St Beuno (Wade-Evans 1930, p.317). In view of the overall context of this paper, it is worth noting that the Buchedd appears to offer independent testimony to the antiquity of the Holywell St Winifred tradition. The toponym appears to mean the Irishman's gwern, and as one of Beuno's disciples was St Llorcan Wyddel (i.e. Llorcan the Irishman), whom he is said to have restored to life and taken as a disciple, it seems likely that Gwern Beuno and Gwyddelwern essentially refer to the same place, which was once associated in tradition with the two saints. Gwyddelwern church is dedicated to Beuno, and there is also a Ffynnon Beuno on the outskirts of the village, a little way from the church, to the north (once celebrated for the cure of cattle; Jones 1954, p.106, p.189), which is also occasionally known was Ff. Ucha (Upper Well). The upper-lower parallel, in addition to the fact that both wells are named for Beuno, seems to confirm that the name Ff. Fair has been intruded upon the Lower Well, arguably in the high middle ages (see below); but that the new dedication, lacking any form of cultic support, failed to supplant the older associations of the well.
The premier Marian sanctuary in Wales was at Penrhys, on the mountain-top above the
Rhondda. Here the principal object of devotion was an image of Mary believed to have been
brought from heaven; and though the holy well of the Virgin, Ffynnon Fair, on the hillside
just below the shrine chapel continued to be used for cures long after the burning of Our
Lady of Penrhys in Chelsea in 1538, it was clearly only a subsidiary element in the
Medieval pilgrimage. There is a significant amount of late-Medieval Welsh poetry detailing
this shrine and its pilgrimage (translated and briefly discussed in Ward 1914,
pp.393-406), which mentions the well - Rhisiart ap Rhys, for instance, wrote:
While Gwilym Tew invoked:
But it is clear from these texts that the principal object of devotion at Penrhys was the miraculous image of Mary nursing Jesus for a kiss (Rhisiart ap Rhys in Ward 1914, p.399).
For the history and archaeology of the Penrhys sanctuary, see Ward (1914); the well is discussed pp.371-8, and illustrated with a photograph, excellent line drawings, and a plan. For a succinct modern account of Penrhys, see Gray 1996, and references therein.)
In North Wales, the main Marian shrine was her church on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island - Mary's sea-girt isle, fair isle of her fair ones, as the poet Meilir described it in the twelfth century) off the end of the Lleyn peninsula in Caernarfonshire. Ffynnon Fair, Aberdaron, on the headland looking out towards the island, was associated with the pilgrimage, pilgrims visiting the well and its associated chapel before sailing to Enlli. As yet, there is no complete account of the Enlli pilgrimage, but cf. Hartwell Jones (1912), pp.353-68; for some of the island's traditional associations with the Celtic saints, see Fisher (1926).
The wells at St Davids and Beddgelert appear likely to have been associated in some manner with images venerated in the cathedral and priory churches, respectively, as Blessed Mary of Menevia and Blessed Mary of Snowdon; but there is little information about either shrine. And there were other, more purely local shrines, as the instance of Nercwys cited above demonstrates.
That Marian sanctuaries were not automatically associated with Marian wells is revealed in the instance of Llanystumdwy, in Caernarfonshire. In this local shrine an image known as Our Lady of the Throne was venerated; but though three holy wells are noted for the parish, none are dedicated to the Virgin. The Llanystumdwy wells are: Ff. Ddefaid, Sheep Well, noted as curative (Jones 1954, p.154); Ff. y Gwaenydd, Meadows', or Moors' Well, pins offered, crutches hung on the surrounding trees by the cured (Jones 1954, p.101, p.154); and Ff. Rhufeinig, Roman Well, or Ff. Betws Fawr, which can apparently mean either great oratory or, much more likely here, great birch-grove (Jones 1954, p.156). For the Llanystumdwy wells, see Fardd 1908, p.175 [Ff. Ddefaid], p.176 [Ff. y Gwaenydd], and p.192 [Ff. Rhufeinig]. Similarly, there is no evidence for a Mary Well at Cardigan, where an image known as Our Lady of the Taper was popularly venerated until the Reformation (for this shrine, see Harris 1954).
It is also relevant to note that, although the dedication of the first church in Wales to Mary, at Meifod in 1156, was thought sufficiently important to merit mention in the princely annals (cf. for example Jones 1971, p.157), the church never developed as a centre of particular devotion to the Virgin. Perhaps the long-established veneration of the local saints Tyssilio and Gwyddfarch, both of whom already had churches and shrines in the Meifod llan, hindered any such development? Much more surprising is that neither Mary, Tyssilio, nor Gwyddfarch appear to have had wells named in their honour, although there were a number of celebrated wells in Meifod parish:
Ff. y Clawdd Llesg is on Moel y Sant, the Saint's Mountain (cf. Inventory 1911, pp.150-1, which has a good account of the well as it was in 1910), which fact, with the details of its cult, perhaps suggests a former association with one or other of the Meifod saints.
For a general account of Marian pilgrimage in medieval Wales, now badly in need of updating, see Hartwell Jones (1912), pp.335-44.
This was Capel Ffynnon Fair, the Chapel of Mary's Well, in Cefn Meiriadog, in
Denbighshire. Jones (1954,
p.174) notes only a very few of the available facts and relevant sources for the history
of this complex and important well-shrine. Browne Willis' 1720 account of it has already
been quoted in the course of this paper (see note 3).
For an excellent account of its architecture, and a brief introduction to its history, see Wright (1967-8).
|14.||This consideration is potentially important when addressing the thorny problem of survival, for survivalists often assume that the founders christianised already sacred wells. The evidence is slim. It is interesting to note that in large numbers of instances holy wells which have evidence of significant ritual activity and legends with no overtly Christian character, and bear secular names, are situated significantly far away from the parish llan. Thus, to take a single example from Flintshire, Ffynnon Leinw, in Cilcain (Jones 1954, p.180), which was believed to ebb and flow, and which today takes the form of a large bath, indicating one-time bathing for cures, is situated about as far as it possibly could be from the parish church, which has its own well, Ffynnon Mihangel, St Michael's Well nearby (Jones 1954, p.179). This well was noticed by Giraldus Cambrensis in his Welsh Itinerary (Giraldus 1908, p.129) but he makes no mention of its sacred character. Thus it would seem distinctly possible to argue that, far from christianising existing sacred wells, in the Celtic countries at least, the founders simply gave them a wide berth, and chose other springs with no such associations for their own use. In time, the overall prevailing Christian culture would lead to the obsolescence of overtly pagan elements in the cults of these wells, until eventually they developed into the seemingly religiously neutral sites we know today. This class of well would repay closer study, and might well yield evidence of long-term religious or cult survival of a type so often suggested for holy wells as a whole. A similar pattern might not be observable in non-Celtic lands, where different patterns of church foundation prevailed.|
|15.||The best suggestion is that of Wade-Evans, who tentatively identified Nefydd with Tyfid, the father of St Winifred (Wade-Evans 1930, p.331). This has in its favour the fact that Llannefydd immediately adjoins Henllan, which, as been seen, had very strong links with the legend and cultus of St Winifred.|
Page designed by Rich Pederick (© Living Spring
Written & maintained by Rich Pederick
Created November 1, MMII