– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
We are continuing with our theme of ‘Quirky Dorset’ still and I think this is Part 19, and it is another well. It seems that a lot of wells have a lot of folklore written about them as legends and ‘Chinese whispers’ are passed down through the generations, and this one is no exception! So whose well is it? Lets look at the evidence 🙂 !
St Augustine’s Well
St Augustine’s Well, as it is known, is in the lovely Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, of ‘Giant’ fame, and tradition has it that it owes its existence to St Augustine of Canterbury, hence the name. It seems that in the 7th century, St Augustine visited Dorset and he was travelling through the Cerne Valley before the current village existed and he met some shepherds. They were thirsty so the saint asked them if they would prefer water or ale to drink, and they, probably realising he was a saintly man, replied that they would prefer the former. The saint duly did what anyone would do and struck the ground with his staff, crying out Cerno El which apparently means ‘I perceive God’, whereupon water flowed from the spot.
Now this may be a correct and true story but the cynical in me thinks that might just be an invented tale, since there are others! I say ‘invented’ because people did do that sort of thing simply to attract visitors 🙂 !
The second story in fact doesn’t credit it to St Augustine at all but rather another gentleman known as St Edwold. He was actually royalty, but became a hermit and settled in the area back in the 9th century, and he had a vision where he saw a silver well. He was walking through the Cerne Valley one day and being hungry, he bought bread and water from a shepherd, paying him with silver. The shepherd handed over the bread and brought him to this well to draw water, whereupon the saint immediately recognised the well he had seen in his vision.
Taking this as a sign, he built a hermitage on the site and stayed there until he died. Thus, perhaps this should be called St Edwold’s Well! Or maybe Silver Well, as it seems it was once known. Then again, some say that St Edwold’s Well is in fact a different well all together as there are a number in the area. These things are so confusing…..but that just adds to the intrigue 🙂 !
We will never know the truth, but we do know that this was recognised as a sacred place and that there was once a chapel built over the top of the well. This was lost in 1539 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The well was until comparatively recent times used as drinking water by the villagers, although looking at my picture above, you probably wouldn’t want to try it in autumn with those rotting leaves 🙂 ! Oh, and apparently a 3 feet long eel was found in it not long ago 🙂 !
As with most wells, the water is said the have curative properties and also to aid fertility……which of course is also something that is said about the famous Giant on the hillside about which I blogged recently. It was said too to be beneficial to dip new born babies into the water! It wasn’t only fertility either, as young girls were often encouraged to come here and pray to St Catherine for a husband, turning round three times as they did so.
Oh, and there is another local legend that says if you look into the water over Easter, you will see reflected the faces of those who will die that year.
Clearly, this is a mysterious and somewhat quirky place, and one that has been regarded for centuries as a holy place. To this day, people still tie written prayers on the surrounding trees. In fact there are 12 lime trees around the well and these are known locally as the twelve apostles.
St Augustine’s Well is a delightful place. It nestles in a hollow beside the graveyard and not far from the old abbey ruins. Peace and tranquility are words that spring to mind as you stroll down the tree lined path that leads to the well itself. This is a well that is perfect for a pilgrimage, or just to sit and meditate beside.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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