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Madron Holy Well

Sacred Well


I know this is long, and it's about a well, but maybe the bit that says "A small piece torn (not cut) from the child's clothes was hung for luck (if possible out of sight) on a thorn..." isn't something often quoted in your new age holy well books. Might be something to think about at the Swallowhead Springs for example. Or will it just become a different type of geotrashing.
In East Cornwall they have a custom of bathing in the sea on the three first Sunday mornings in May. And in West Cornwall children were taken before sunrise on those days to the holy wells, notably to that of St. Maddern (Madron) near Penzance, to be there dipped into the running water that they might be cured of the rickets and other childish disorders. After being stripped naked they were plunged three times into the water, the parents facing the sun, and passed round the well nine times from east to west. They were then dressed, and laid by the side of the well to sleep in the sun; should they do so and the water bubble it was considered a good sign. Not a word was to be spoken the whole time for fear of breaking the spell.

A small piece torn (not cut) from the child's clothes was hung for luck (if possible out of sight) on a thorn which grew out of the chapel wall. Some of these bits of rag may still sometimes be found, fluttering on the neighbouring bushes. I know two well-educated people who in 1840, having a son who could not walk at the age of two, carried him and dipped him in Madron well, a distance of three miles from their home, on the two first Sundays in May; but on the third the father refused to go. Some authorities say this well should be visited on the first three Wednesdays in May; as was for the same purpose another holy well at Chapel Euny (or St. Uny) near Sancred.

The Weslyans hold an open-air service on the first three Sunday afternoons in May, at a ruined chapel near to Madron-well, in the south wall of which a hole may be seen, through which the water from the well runs into a small baptistry in the south-west corner.

Parties of young girls to this day walk there in May to try for sweethearts. Crooked pins, or small heavy things, are dropped into the well in couples; if they keep together the pair will be married; the number of bubbles they make in falling shows the time that will elapse before the event.

Sometimes two pieces of straw formed into a cross, fastened in the centre by a pin, were used in these divinations. An old woman who lived in a cottage at a little distance formerly frequented the well and instructed visitors how to work the charms; she was never paid in money, but small presents were placed were she could find them. Pilgrims from all parts of England centuries ago resorted to St. Maddern's well: that was fames, as was also her grave, for many miraculous cures.
p228-30 in
Cornish Feasts and "Feasten" Customs. [Continued]
M. A. Courtney
The Folk-Lore Journal, Vol. 4, No. 3. (1886), pp. 221-249.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
3rd April 2007ce
Edited 3rd April 2007ce

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