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ago as King Edgar, and in the reign of Canutus ; not long after again in a council at London, under St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D. 1102 ; as it was also particularly at these two wells near Oxford and Peterborough, by Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln.”
Deering, in his History of Nottingham, p. 125, says: "By a custom time beyond memory, the mayor and aldermen of Nottingham and their wives have been used on Monday in Easter week, morning prayers ended, to march from the town to St. Anne's Well, having the town waits to play before them, and attended by all the clothing and their wives, i. e. such as have been sheriffs, and ever after wear scarlet gowns, together with the officers of the town, and many other burgesses and gentlemen," &c.
Aubrey, in his MS. Remaines of Gentilisme, says, “In processions they used to reade a Gospell at the springs to blesse them ; which hath been discontinued at Sunnywell
, in Berkshire, but since 1688.”
[One of the most ancient ceremonies relating to wells was the watching of them at night. A very curious ballad on this subject, the head-line of which is, “I have forsworne hit whil I life to wake the welle,” is preserved in MS. Cantab. Ff. v. 48, f. 1ll:
“ The last tyme I the wel woke,
I shuld not telle.
And rofe my kelle.
I was begylede.
To beyre a childe.
A long while ey."']
The leaving of rags at wells was a singular species of popular superstition. Bishop Hall, in his Triumphs of Rome, ridicules a superstitious prayer of the Popish church for the blessing of clouts in the way of cure of diseases. Can it have originated thence? This absurd custom is not extinct even at this day : I have formerly frequently observed shreds or bits of rag upon the bushes that overhang a well in the road to Benton, a village in the vicinity of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which, from that circumstance, is now or was very lately called the rag-well. This name is undoubtedly of long standing: probably it has been visited for some disease or other, and these ragofferings are the reliques of the then prevailing popular superstition. It is not far from another holy spring at Jesmond, at the distance of about a mile from Newcastle. Pilgrimages to this well and chapel at Jesmond were so frequent, that one of the principal streets of the great commercial town aforesaid is supposed to have had its name partly from having an inn in it, to which the pilgrims that flocked thither for the benefit of the supposed holy water used to resort. See Brand's History of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, i. 339.
Pennant tells us, “They visit the well of Spey, in Scotland, for many distempers, and the well of Drachaldy for as many, offering small pieces of money and bits of rags.” Pennant's Additions, p. 18.
I Grose, from a MS. in the Cotton library marked Julius P. vi., tells us : “ Between the towns of Alten and Newton, near the foot of Rosberrye Toppinge, there is a well dedicated to St. Oswald. The neighbours have an opinion that a shirt or shift taken off a sick person and thrown into that well will show whether the person will recover or die : for, if it floated, it denoted the recovery of the party; if it sunk, there remained no hope of their life: and to reward the saint for his intelligence, they tear off a rag of the shirt, and leave it hanging on the briers thereabouts; where," says the writer, “I have seen such numbers as might have made a faire rheme in a paper-mill.”
2 " St. Mary's Well, in this village (Jesmond), which is said to have had as many steps down to it as there are articles in the Creed, was lately inclosed by Mr. Coulson for a bathing-place; which was no sooner done than the water left it. This occasioned strange whispers in the village and the adjacent places. The well was always esteemed of more sanctity than common wells, and therefore the failing of the water could be looked upon as nothing less than a just revenge for so great a profanation. But, alas! the miracle's at an end, for the water returned a while ago in as great abundance as ever." Thus far Bourne.
In Heron's Journey through part of Scotland, i. 282, speaking of the river Fillan in the vale of Strathfillan, he “In this river is a pool consecrated by the ancient superstition of the inhabitants of this country. The pool is formed by the eddying of the stream round a rock. Its waves were many years since consecrated by Fillan, one of the saints who converted the ancient inhabitants of Caledonia from Paganism to the belief of Christianity. It has ever since been distinguished by his name, and esteemed of sovereign virtue in curing madness. About two hundred persons afflicted in this way are annually brought to try the benefits of its salutary influence. These patients are conducted by their friends, who first perform the ceremony of passing with them thrice through a neighbouring cairn : on this cairn they then deposit a simple offering of clothes, or perhaps of a small bunch of heath. More precious offerings used once to be brought. The patient is then thrice immerged in the sacred pool. After the immersion he is bound hand and foot, and left for the night in a chapel which stands near. If the maniac is found loose in the morning, good hopes are conceived of his full recovery. If he is still bound, his cure remains doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him, during his confinement, from the troubles of life.”
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xiii. 76, parish of Kenethmont, Aberdeenshire, we read : “A spring in the Moss of Melshach, of the chalybeate kind, is still in great reputation among the common people. Its sanative qualities extend even to brutes. As this spring probably obtained vogue at first in days of ignorance and superstition, it would appear that it became customary to leave at the well part of the clothes of the sick and diseased, and harness of the cattle, as an offering of gratitude to the divinity who bestowed healing virtues on its waters. And now, even though the superstitious principle no longer exists, the accustomed offerings are still presented.”
Macaulay, in his History of St. Kilda, p. 95, speaking of a consecrated well in that island called Tobirnimbuadh, or the spring of diverse virtues, says, that “near the fountain stood an altar, on which the distressed votaries laid down their oblations. Before they could touch sacred water with any prospect of success, it was their constant practice to address the genius of the place with supplication and prayers. No
one approached him with empty hands. But the devotees were abundantly frugal. The offerings presented by them were the poorest acknowledgments that could be made to a superior being, from whom they had either hopes or fears. Shells and pebbles, rags of linen or stuffs worn out, pins, needles, or rusty nails, were generally all the tribute that was paid ; and sometimes, though rarely enough, copper coins of the smallest value. Among the heathens of Italy and other countries, every choice fountain was consecrated, and sacrifices were offered to them, as well as to the deities that presided over them. See Ovid's Fasti, lib. iii. 300 :
Fonti rex Numa mactat ovem.' “Horace, in one of his odes, made a solemn promise that he would make a present of very fine kid, some sweet wine, and flowers, to a noble fountain in his own Sabine villa."
Brand, in his Description of Orkney, p. 58, speaking of St. Tredwell's Loch, says: “It is held by the people as medicinal ; whereupon many diseased and infirm persons resort to it, some saying that thereby they have got good. Yet I hear that when they have done all that is usual for them to do—as going about the loch, washing their bodies or any part thereof, leaving something at the loch, as old clouts and the like, &c.—it is but in few in whom the effect of healing is produced. As for this loch's appearing like blood before any disaster befal the royal family, as some do report, we could find no ground to believe any such thing."
In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xviii. 630, parish of Mary-Kirk, co. Kincardine, we read: “There is at Balmano a fine spring well, called St. John's Well, which in ancient times was held in great estimation. Numbers who thought its waters of a sanative quality brought their rickety children to be washed in its stream. Its water was likewise thought a sovereign remedy for sore eyes, which, by frequent washing, was supposed to cure them. To show their gratitude to the saint, and that he might be propitious to continue the virtues of the waters, they put into the well presents, not indeed of any great value, or such as would have been of the least service to him if he had stood in need of money, but such as they conceived the good and merciful apostle, who did not delight in costly oblations, could not fail to accept. The presents
generally given were pins, needles, and rags taken from their clothes. This may point out the superstition of those times.”
Using rags as charms, it seems, was not confined to England or Europe, for I read the following passage in Hanway's Travels into Persia, i. 177: “After ten days' journey we arrived at a desolate caravanserai, where we found nothing but water. I observed a tree with a number of rags tied to the branches : these were so many charms, which passengers coming from Ghilan, a province remarkable for agues, had left there, in a fond expectation of leaving their disease also on the same spot.”
Park, in his Travels in the Interior of Africa, has the following passage : “The company advanced as far as a large tree, called by the natives Neema Taba. It had a very singular appearance, being covered with innumerable rags or scraps of cloth, which persons travelling across the wilderness had at different times tied to its branches : a custom so generally followed, that no one passes it without hanging up something. Park followed the example, and suspended a handsome piece of cloth on one of the boughs.
Martin, in his History of the Western Islands of Scotland, p. 7, speaking of the Isle of Lewis, says that “St. Andrew's Well, in the village of Shadar, is by the vulgar natives made a test to know if a sick person will die of the distemper he labours under.' They send one with a wooden dish, to bring some of the water to the patient; and if the dish, which is then laid softly upon the surface of the water, turn round sunways, they conclude that the patient will recover of that distemper; but if otherwise, that he will die.”
Collinson, in his History of Somersetshire, iii. 104, mentions a well in the parish of Wembdon, called St. John's Well, to which, in 1464, an immense concourse of people resorted : and that many who had for years laboured under various bodily diseases, and had found no benefit from physic and
I "About a mile to the west of Jarrow (near Newcastle-upon-Tyne) there is a well still called Bede's Well, to which as late as the year 1740 it was a prevailing custom to bring children troubled with any disease or infirmity; a crooked pin was put in, and the well laved dry between each dipping. My informant has seen twenty children brought together on a Sunday to be dipped in this well, at which also, on Midsummer Eve, there was a great resort of neighbouring people, with bonfires, musick, &c." Brand's History of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, ü. 54.