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as sanative as those of the pool of Bethesda, and extended their salutary influence to both man and beast.
« Omnes languores,” observes an old writer, " tam in hominibus quam in pecoribus (ut legendæ verba habent) sanare.” Drayton affirms, that no dog could be drowned in it; and the votive crutches, barrows, and other uncouth offerings, which are still to be seen pendent about the well, remain as incontrovertible proofs of the cures which the waters have performed. Pope Martin the Fifth, in the reign of Henry the Fifth, furnished the neighbouring abbey of Basingwerk with pardons and indulgencies, to be sold to the devotees.
These were renewed again in the reign of Queen Mary, by the interest of Thomas Goldwell, bishop of St. Asaph, who fled into Italy, on the accession of Elizabeth. Multitudes of offerings flowed in ; and the monks received tangible marks of gratitude from such as had received benefit, by their intercession with the Virgin.
The resort of pilgrims, of late years, to these fountains has considerably decreased, observes Mr. Pennant. The greatest number is now from Lancashire. In the summer, a few are seen, up to their chins in water, deep in devotion, or performing a variety of evolutions round.
This excess of piety has cost many persons their lives; and people of rank have, long since, ceased to honour the fountain with their presence.
Et tantis bullis scaturit
Gale's Scriptor. Vol.ii. p. 190.
In the last age, however, a crowned head dignified the place with a visit. The poor infatuated prince, who lost three kingdoms for a mass, paid his respects to St. Winefred on the 29th of August, 1686, and received, as the reward of his piety, a present of the very chemise in which his great grand-mother, Mary Stewart, lost her head. He gave, in his progress through the country, as marks of favour and esteem, golden rings,with his hair plaited beneath a crystal. The majority of devotees, at the present day, consist of the fair sex, who are attracted thither to commemorate the threatened martyrdom of St. Winefreda, as those of the East did the death of the Cyprian favourite,
Whose annual wound, in Lebanon, allured
Of Thammuz yearly wounded. We know of no medicinal virtues which can be attributed to the waters of St. Winefred's well beyond those appertaining to any other cold bath; and now that sense and reason are becoming daily more extensively diffused throughout the kingdom, all the silly credulity engendered by a greedy and bigoted priesthood will skulk and disappear under their benign inAuence: and the minds and actions of the vulgar will be no longer swayed by the fantastical and illusive fables of former ages.
The other wells, in addition to the customary virtues of such places, possess others more exclusively peculiar to them. Thus, that of St. Tegla is famed for the cure of epilepsy, by the performance of the following ceremony,
Patients in epilepsy, washed in the wells, and having made an offering of a few pence, are to walk thrice round the well, and thrice repeat the Lord's prayer. The ceremony never begins till after sunset. If the patient be a male, he offers a cock; if a female, a hen. This fowl is to be carried in a basket, first round the well, and then into the church-yard, where the ceremony of saying the Lord's prayer is to be repeated. The patient must then enter the church, and get under the communion table, where, putting a bible under his head, and being covered with a carpet or a cloak, he is to rest till break of day; and then, having made a further offering of sixpence, and leaving the fowl in the church, he may depart. If the fowl dies, the disorder is supposed to be transferred to the bird, and the cure effected.
But as this well is celebrated for producing a salutary effect, that of St. Elian, near Beltios Abergeley, in Denbighshire, is equally notorious for possessing an opposite influence. It is not only an opinion, but a firmly rooted belief, among the peasantry, that if any one be put into the well, as they call it, he will be afflicted with any malady or misfortune, which his enemy may desire. . “ I will put you into St. Elian's well, and have revenge of you!" said a choleric mountaineer to Mr. Pennant, in return for some trifling offence; and it was only so lately as April, 1820, that a person of the name of John Edwards, of the parish of Northop, in Flintshire, was tried at the Great Sessions, for defrauding one Edward Pierce, of Llandyrnog, in Denbighshire, of the sum of fifteen shillings, under the pretence, (to borrow the classical language of the indictment) " that the said Edward Pierce was put into Fynnon Elian, (Elian's Well) and that some great evil and misfortune would, in consequence, befal the said Edward Pierce; and that he, the said John Edwards, could avert the said evil and misfortune, by taking him, the said Edward Pierce, out of the said well, if he, the said Edward Pierce, would pay unto the said John Edwards, the sum of fifteen shillings.”
This “the said Edward Pearce" was silly enough to do, as well as to accompany the arch-enchanter to the well, where several mystic ceremonies were performed, to the no small satisfaction of both parties; and the ignorant dupe returned home with a full persuasion that his affairs, which had been long “ going cross," would thenceforth be in a more prosperous state than ever. Deceived in this, however, he brought the offender to justice, and the " said John Edwards” was rewarded for his ingenuity by an imprisonment for twelve months.*
The mode which was usually adopted to secure the good or evil influence of St. Elian's Well, was, in truth, sufficiently formal and elaborate to inspire the credulous with a perfect belief in its efficacy. Near the well resided some worthless and infamous woman, who officiated as priestess. To her, the person who wished to inflict the curse, applied, and, for a trifling sum, she registered in a book, kept for the purpose, the name of the individual upon whose hapless head the malediction was to fall. A pin was then dropped into the well, in the name of the victim, and the report that such a one had been thus put into the well soon reached the ears of the devoted person. If the individual were cursed with a credulous disposition, the idea, like that of the West Indian Obi, soon preyed upon his spirits, and at length terminated in his destruction for the poor
unhappy object pined himself to death, unless a timely reconciliation should take place between the parties, in which case, the priestess, for a suitable fee, erased the name from ber book, and took the poor wretch out of the well!
St. Dwynwen's Well was in the very zenith of its attraction about the middle of the fourteenth century. “ Here,” says an eminent Welsh antiquary,“ were constantly wax lights kept at the tomb of this Virgin Saint, where all persons in love applied for a remedy, and which brought vast profit to the monks.” Dwynwen, indeed, was as famous among the Britons in affairs of this nature, as Venus ever was among the Greeks and Romans; and we can easily imagine what a number of votaries Alocked to her shrine. At the same time, we must be permitted to doubt the efficacy of her power, as far as regarded the satisfying of all her supplicants. The palsy it may cure, and the leprosy, and the gout, and the rheumatism, and the epilepsy, nay, even hydrophobia might yield to its power; but as for love-Oh, impossible!
Hitherto we have treated of superstitions not absolutely peculiar to Wales : indeed, it is a difficult matter to limit the extension of credulity, particularly when the nation, among which it was originally engendered, mixes freely with a neighbouring people. Hence, fairies and holy wells were as abundant in England as they were in Wales, however various may be their particular attributes or general character. But we question whether the delusion, which we are about to mention, has yet found its way beyond the Marches: we allude to the melancholy apparition of the Canwyllau Cyrph, or Corpse Candles. In many parts of Wales, more particularly at St. David's, in Pembrokeshire, the death of an individual is supposed to be announced by the appearance of a light, somewhat like that of a candle, which moves about from place to place, in the vicinity of the house in which the doomed person is residing. Sometimes, it proceeds in the direction of the churchyard, and, frequently, it appears in the hand of the spectre of the person whose fate it foretells.
Some of the apparitions, which are commonly supposed to forbode death, may, perhaps, be accounted for upon principles purely philosophical. The Jack-a-lantern, or Will-o'-the-wisp, is known to arise from a peculiar gas, or a mixture of gases, which proceed from the earth, mostly where coal abounds, and are phosphoretic, and kindled by atmospheric air, or the breath. In the latter case, the Will-o'-the-wisp appears to precede the person, being sustained by his breath. The Corpse Candle appears to be kindled and directed in its course precisely in the same way, and, probably, arises from a body already in a state of incipient putrescence. It would, therefore, be worthy of philosophical observation, whether, when it does appear, it cannot always be traced to a body in such a state. In cases of cáncer, a halo has, in more than one instance, been seen round the head of a patient at the point of death; and this may be justly attributed to such a cause : and, in like manner, other phenomena, peculiar to such a time, may be rationally accounted for ; such as the birds of prey flapping their wings against the windows, and the howling of dogs, they being attracted by the peculiar effluvia : the ringing of bells, also, in the house, may be, probably, occasioned by the extrication of some electric principle after death, when putrescence commences.
There is another forerunner of death, which has sometimes appeared in South Wales, before the decease of some person of more than ordinary rank,-namely, a coffin and burial train, proceeding from the house, in the dead of the night, towards the church-yard. Sometimes a hearse and mourning coaches form the cavalcade, which moves in gloomy silence, and with the most methodical formality. Not a footstep is heard, as the procession moves along; and the terror of the persons who happen to see it, is soon communicated to all the neighbouring peasantry.
Was Lear's idea of shoeing a troop of horse with felt suggested by a knowledge of this superstition?
And is there care in Heaven? and is there love
And all his works with mercies doth embrace,
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant,
Faërie Queene. Canto vii.