Her Wells at Edinburgh

In any notice of early saints Ronan must not be forgotten, especially
when we remember that perhaps no spring, thanks to Sir Walter Scott,
is so familiar to the general reader as St. Ronan’s Well. It has
been commonly identified with the mineral well at Innerleithen, in
Peeblesshire for long held in much favour in cases of eye and skin
complaints, and also for the cure of dyspepsia. The spring is situated
a short distance above the town on the skirt of Lee Pen. The writer of
the article on Innerleithen parish in the “New Statistical Account of
Scotland” says that this spring “was formerly called the ‘Dow-well’
from the circumstance that, long before the healing virtues of the
water were discovered, pigeons from the neighbouring country resorted
to it.” The name, however, is more probably derived from the Gaelic
dhu or dubh, signifying black. This is all the more likely when we
remember that the ground around was wet and miry before the spring
was put into order, and the present pump-room built, in 1826. We
find marks of Ronan in Scottish topography. In Dumbartonshire is
Kilmaronock, meaning, literally, the Church of my little Ronan;
Kilmaronog near Loch Etive has the same signification. Dr. Skene
refers to these two dedications, and adds, “Ronan appears to have
carried his mission to the Isles. He has left his trace in Iona,
where one of the harbours is Port Ronan. The church, afterwards the
parish church, was dedicated to him, and is called Teampull Ronaig,
and its burying-ground, Cladh Ronan. Then we find him at Rona, in the
Sound of Skye, and another Rona, off the coast of Lewis; and, finally,
his death is recorded in 737 as Ronan, abbot of Cinngaradh or Kingarth,
in Bute.” Ronan is patron of various springs. There is one sacred to
him near Kilmaronock, another in the Aberdeenshire parish of Strathdon,
and another, already referred to, beside Teampull Mòr, in the Butt
of Lewis. The parish of Strowan, now joined to that of Monzievaird,
has a well to the saint. This was to be expected, since the name of the
parish is merely an altered form of St. Rowan or Ronan. About a hundred
yards above the bridge of Strowan, there is a deep pool in the river
Earn, called Pol-Ronan, and a piece of ground hard by was formerly the
site of the yearly gathering known as Feill-Ronan or St. Ronan’s Fair.

The parish of St. Fergus, in Buchan, known till the year 1616 as
Langley, commemorates an Irish missionary of the eighth century, who
led a roving life, if we can believe the tradition, that he evangelised
Caithness, Buchan, Strathearn, and Forfarshire, as well as attended an
Ecclesiastical Council at Rome. The legend that his well in Kirkmichael
parish, Banffshire, was at one time in Italy may be connected with
his visit to Rome. Concerning this spring, the Rev. Dr. Gregor gives
the following particulars:–“Fergan Well is situated on the south-east
side of Knock-Fergan, a hill of considerable height on the west side
of the river Avon, opposite the manse of Kirkmichael. The first Sunday
of May and Easter Sunday were the principal Sundays for visiting it,
and many from the surrounding parishes, who were affected with skin
diseases or running sores, came to drink of its water, and to wash in
it. The hour of arrival was twelve o’clock at night, and the drinking
of the water and the washing of the diseased part took place before
or at sunrise. A quantity of the water was carried home for future
use. Pilgrimages were made up to the end of September, by which time
the healing virtues of the water had become less. Such after-visits
seem to have begun in later times.” Fergus died at Glamis, and his
relics soon began to work cures. His head was carried off to the
monastery of Scone, and was so much esteemed in later times that,
by order of James IV., a silver case was made for it. His cave and
well are to be seen at Glamis. There is a spring dedicated to him
near Montrose, and there is another at Wick.

Various other saintly personages have left traces of their names
in holy wells. Chalmers, in his “Caledonia,” mentions that the
ancient church of Aldcamus, in Cockburnspath parish, Berwickshire,
was dedicated to Helen, mother of Constantine, and that its ruins were
known as St. Helen’s Kirk. A portion of the building still stands. To
the north of it is a burying-ground; but, curiously enough, as Mr. Muir
points out in his “Ancient Churches of Scotland,” the spot does not
appear ever to have been used for purposes of sepulture. We do not know
surely of any spring to Helen in the immediate neighbourhood, but there
is one at Darnick, near Melrose. Another is in Kirkpatrick-Fleming
parish, Dumfriesshire. Perhaps the best known is St. Helen’s Well,
beside the highway from Maybole to Ayr, about two-and-a-half miles
from the former town. It was much resorted to on May Day for the
cure of sickly children. On Timothy Pont’s map, of date 1654, there
is a “Helen’s Loch” marked a little to the south-west of Camelon,
in Stirlingshire. Some writers have attempted to claim Helen as
a native of Britain, and Colchester and York have, for different
reasons, been fixed on as her birth-place. The circumstance that
Constantine was proclaimed Emperor at the latter town, on the
death there of his father, Constantius Chlorus, probably gave rise
to the tradition. Anyhow, Helen seems to have been held in high
honour in England. In an article in the “Archæological Journal”
for December, 1891, Mr. Edward Peacock mentions that there are at
least fifteen wells named after her south of the Tweed. He adds,
“there are many churches dedicated to the honour of St. Helen in
England, but they are very irregularly distributed. None seems to
occur in Cumberland, Westmoreland, or Essex. The rest of the English
shires, for which we have authentic information, give the following
results:–Devonshire, three; Durham, two; Kent, one; Lincolnshire,
twenty-eight; Northumberland, three; Nottinghamshire, fifteen;
Yorkshire, thirty-two.” Helen’s name occurs in Welsh legends; but,
as Mr. Peacock observes, “early history is so much distorted in them,
that, if we did not know of her from more authentic sources, we might
well believe Helen to have been a mere creation of the fervid Keltic
imagination.” As far as is known there are neither wells nor church
dedications to her in the Principality.

At Ayton, in Berwickshire, we find St. Abb’s Well, recalling Abb or
Æbba, who, in the seventh century, presided over a monastery on the
headland still bearing her name, and in whose honour the priory at
Coldingham was founded by Edgar, son of Malcolm Canmore, some four
centuries and a half later. Her monastery on the headland was founded
by Aidan, who was sent from Iona to the North of England in response
to a request from King Oswald, of Bernicia, for a missionary to preach
Christianity to his pagan subjects. This was about the year 635. Aidan
made the island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland,
his head-quarters. It is still known as Holy Island. Aidan has not
been forgotten in the matter of wells. There are four to him, viz.,
at Menmuir and at Fearn, in Forfarshire; at Balmerino, in Fife; and
at Cambusnethan, in Lanarkshire. This last, called St. Iten’s Well,
was noted for the cure of asthma and skin-disease.

Boisil, abbot of the monastery of Old Melrose, about the middle of
the seventh century, still lives in the name of the Roxburghshire
village and parish of St. Boswell’s. There is a spring in the parish
bearing the name of The Well-brae Wall. Boswell’s own spring is
popularly styled the Hare-well. Not far from both is St. Boswell’s
Burn, a tributary of the Tweed. The local fair held on July 18th, in
honour of the saint, used to be a notable one in the border counties,
and was frequented by large numbers of gipsies who set up booths for
the sale of their wares.

Bathan, who flourished in the early seventh century, had to
do with Shetland, and with the region about the Whittadder, in
Berwickshire. Abbey St. Bathans, in the latter county, is named after
him. His well is on one of the haughs beside the river, not far from
the ruined nunnery. Its water is believed never to freeze.

Boniface belonged to the same century. He is said to have preached
Christianity at Gowrie, in Pictavia, and afterwards at Rosemarkie,
in the Black Isle, where he died at the age of eighty, and was buried
in the church of St. Peter. A well and a fair at Rosemarkie still
keep alive his memory.

The fame of Catherine of Alexandria travelled to Scotland at a
comparatively early period. This holy maiden was noted for her
learning. Indeed she was so wise that Maxentius the Emperor called
her a “second Plato.” The Emperor’s compliments, however, stopped
there, for he ordered her to be executed on account of her contempt
for paganism. The wheel, her usual attribute in art, was not the
instrument of her martyrdom, as it was miraculously destroyed. She
met her death by being beheaded, and, immediately thereafter, her
body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai. These and other legendary
incidents must have conduced to make the saint popular. St. Catherine’s
Balm-well, at Liberton, Mid-Lothian, had a high reputation for
curing skin-disease. Martin speaks of a well to St. Catherine on
the south coast of Eigg, reckoned by the islanders a specific in all
kinds of disease. He gives the following account of its dedication
by Father Hugh, a priest, and of the respect paid to the spring in
consequence:–“He (the priest) obliged all the inhabitants to come to
this well, and then employed them to bring together a great heap of
stones at the head of the spring by way of penance. This being done,
he said Mass at the well, and then consecrated it; he gave each of the
inhabitants a piece of wax candle, which they lighted, and all of them
made the Dessil,–of going round the well sun-ways, the priest leading
them; and from that time it was accounted unlawful to boil any meat
with the water of this well.” In the south-west of Scotland, Catherine
has, or had, three wells, viz., at Stoneykirk, at Low Drumore, and
at Old Luce, opposite the Abbey. In the north-east there are three,
viz., at Fyvie, Aberdeenshire; and in Alvah parish, Banffshire; and at
Banff itself. At Shotts, in Lanarkshire, the fountain by the roadside
immediately below the parish church is, or at least was, locally known
as Cat’s or Kate’s Well–a contraction of the Saint’s name–reminding
one of the Kate Kennedy celebration at St. Andrews University, which
originated in connection with the gift of a bell by Bishop Kennedy in
honour of the saint. The ruins of Caibeal Cairine, i.e., Catherine’s
Chapel, are in Southend parish, Kintyre, and two farms called North
and South Carine are in the immediate neighbourhood. Captain White,
when exploring the district, sought for St. Catherine’s Well in the
adjoining glen, but failed to find it. A chapel to the saint once
stood in the quondam town of Kincardine in the Mearns. Its graveyard
alone remains. St. Catherine’s Fair, held at Kincardine till the year
1612, was then transferred to the neighbouring Fettercairn. There
is perhaps no place-name more familiar to visitors to Inveraray
than St. Catherine’s, on the opposite shore of Loch Fyne. It was in
St. Catherine’s Aisle, within the parish church of Linlithgow, that
James IV. saw the mysterious apparition that warned him to beware of
Flodden. At Port-Erin, in the Isle of Man, is a spring close to the
beach, and on a stone beside it in old lettering, can be read the
piece of advice:–

“St. Catherine’s Well,
Keep me clean.”

Lawrence is represented by various springs, viz., by one in
Kirkcudbrightshire, at Fairgirth; by one in Elginshire, at New Duffus;
and by two in Aberdeenshire, at Kinnord; and at Rayne, where a horse
market, called Lawrence Fair, is still held annually in August. Near
the Fairgirth spring stand the ivy-clad ruins of St. Lawrence’s Chapel,
at one time surrounded by a graveyard. The parish of Slamannan, in
Stirlingshire, was anciently called St. Lawrence, its pre-Reformation
church having been dedicated to him. An excellent spring, not far
from the parish church, is known as St. Lawrence’s Well. There is
reason to believe that all these dedications relate to Lawrence,
who, about the middle of the third century, suffered at Rome, by
being broiled over a slow fire, and in whose honour the Escurial in
Spain was built in the form of a gridiron–the supposed instrument
of his martyrdom. Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire, anciently called
Conveth, received its name, not from the martyr, but from Lawrence,
archbishop of Canterbury, successor of Augustine, early in the seventh
century. He is said to have visited the Mearns. The church of Conveth
was named in his honour Laurencekirk. As far as we know, however,
there is no spring to him in the district.

Margaret, queen and saint, wife of Malcolm Canmore, was a light
amid the darkness of the eleventh century. Indeed she was a light
to many later centuries. The secret of her beneficial influence
lay in her personal character, and she undoubtedly did much to
recommend civilisation to a barbarous age. At the same time it
must not be forgotten that through her English training she was
unable to appreciate either the speech or the special religious
institutions of her Scottish subjects, and that, accordingly, the
changes introduced by her were not all reforms. When sketching her
influence on the history of her time, the Rev. Dr. M’Lauchlan, in his
“Early Scottish Church,” observes, “She was somewhat unwillingly
hindered from entering a monastery by her marriage with Malcolm,
and the latter repaid the obligation by unbounded devotion to her and
readiness to fall in with all her schemes. She was brought up in the
Anglo-Saxon Church, as that Church was moulded by Augustine and other
emissaries of Rome, and was in consequence naturally opposed to many
of the peculiarities of the Scottish Church, which was still without
diocesan bishops, and had many things in its forms of worship peculiar
to itself.” Dunfermline was Malcolm’s favourite place of residence, and
many were the journeys made by his wife between it and Edinburgh. The
names of North and South Queensferry, where she crossed the Forth,
tell of these royal expeditions. Malcolm and Margaret were associated
with the town of Forfar. Local topography has still its King’s Muir,
and its Queen’s Well to testify to the fact; and on the Inch of Forfar
Loch, where Margaret had a residence, an annual celebration was long
held in her honour. She had a spring at Edinburgh Castle, described as
“the fountain which rises near the corner of the King’s Garden, on the
road leading to St. Cuthbert’s Church.” St. Margaret’s Well–once at
Restalrig, now in the Queen’s Park–has already been referred to. At
Dunfermline there is a spring in a cave where, according to tradition,
she spent many an hour in pious meditation. The cave is about seven
feet in height, fully eight in breadth, and varies in depth from
eight to eleven. “This cave,” remarks the Rev. Peter Chalmers in his
“History of Dunfermline,” “is situated at a short distance north from
the Tower Hill, and from the mound crossing the ravine on which part
of the town stands. There is at present a small spring well at the
bottom, the water of which rises at times and covers the whole lower
space; but anciently, it is to be presumed, there was none, or at
least it must have been covered, and prevented from overflowing the
floor, which would either have been formed of the rock or have been
paved.” A considerable amount of rubbish accumulated in the cave,
but this was removed in 1877. “During the process of clearing out
the cave,” remarks Dr. Henderson in his “Annals of Dunfermline,”
“two stone seats or benches were discovered along the base of the
north and south sides, but there were no carvings or devices seen on
them. Near the back of the cave a small sunk well was found, but it
is now covered over with a stone flag.”

Several Scripture characters have wells named after
them. St. Matthew has springs at Kirkton, Dumfriesshire, and at
Roslin, Midlothian. St. Andrew’s name is attached to wells at
Sandal, in Kintyre; at North Berwick, in East Lothian; at Shadar,
in Lewis; and at Selkirk–this last having been uncovered in 1892,
after remaining closed, it is believed, for fully three hundred
years. A spring at St. Andrews, called Holy Well, is understood to
have been dedicated either to Andrew or to Regulus. St. Paul has
springs at Fyvie and at Linlithgow; St. Philip is patron of one
in Yarrow parish, Selkirkshire; St. James has one at Garvock, in
Aberdeenshire; St. Thomas has three–at Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire;
at Crieff, in Perthshire; and near Stirling; and St. John has a
considerable number of springs. Some of these are to the Evangelist,
and some to the Baptist. It is often difficult to know to which of
the two the patronage of a given well should be ascribed. Of the four
chapels along the east wall of the lower church of Glasgow Cathedral,
the one next to St. Mungo’s Well was dedicated in pre-Reformation
times to St. John the Evangelist. It would have been more appropriately
dedicated to the Baptist. St. John’s Wells are to be found at Moffat,
in Dumfriesshire; at Logie Coldstone, in Aberdeenshire; near Fochabers,
in Elginshire; at Inverkeithing, Balmerino; and Falkland, in Fife;
at Kinnethmont, and in New Aberdour, in Aberdeenshire; at Marykirk, in
Kincardineshire; at Kirkton of Deskford, at Ordiquhill, and also near
the old church of Gamrie, in Banffshire; at Stranraer, in Wigtownshire;
at Dunrobin, in Sutherland; and elsewhere. There are more than a dozen
wells to St. Peter. These are to be found mainly in counties in the
south-west, and in the north-east. In the latter district there is
a well at Marnoch, in Banffshire, called Petrie’s Well.

St. Anne, the reputed mother of the Virgin, presided over wells at
Ladykirk, in Berwickshire; near the old church of St. Anne, in Dowally
parish, Perthshire; and at Glass, on the Deveron. The Virgin herself
was specially popular as the patroness of fountains. There are over
seventy dedicated to her under a variety of names, such as, St. Mary’s
Well, Maria Well, &c. The town of Motherwell, in Lanarkshire,
was so called after a famous well to the Virgin. Tobermory, in
Mull–literally, Well of Mary–was originally a fountain. A village
was built beside it, in 1788, as a fishing centre for the British
Fisheries’ Company. A curious legend about the now ivy-clad ruins of
the church of St. Mary in Auchindoir parish, Aberdeenshire, is thus
referred to by Mr. A. Jervise in the “Proceedings of the Society of
Antiquaries of Scotland,” vol. viii. (old series):–“According to
tradition, it was originally proposed to rebuild the church at a place
called Kirkcairns (now Glencairns) to the south of Lumsden village,
and but for the warning voice of the Virgin, who appears to have been a
good judge both of locality and soil, the kirk would have been placed
in an obscure sterile district. Besides being in the neighbourhood
of good land, fine views of the upper part of Strathbogie and of the
surrounding hills are obtained from the present site…. St. Mary’s
Well is about a hundred yards to the west.”

If Michael the Archangel did not fold his wings over any Scottish
wells, he at least gave name to several. There is a St. Michael’s
Spring in Kirkmichael parish, Banffshire, and another at Dallas
in Elginshire. In both cases, the ancient church was dedicated to
him. Culsalmond, in Aberdeenshire, and Applegarth, in Dumfriesshire,
have, and Edinburgh once had, a St. Michael’s Well. The best known is
probably the one at Linlithgow, with its quaint inscription–“Saint
Michael is kinde to straingers.” Mr. J. R. Walker–to whose list
of Holy Wells in the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland,” vol. v. (new series), we have been indebted for various
useful hints–remarks, “The building covering this well dates only
from 1720…. It is conjectured that the statue was taken from the
Cross-well when restored about that date and placed here to represent
St. Michael, who is the patron saint of Linlithgow Church…. With the
exception of the statue, which is undoubtedly of much earlier date
than 1720, the structure shows the utter absence of architectural
knowledge–especially Gothic–characteristic of the last century
in Scotland. Michael was tutelar saint, not only of the church, but
also of the burgh of Linlithgow. In the town Arms he is represented
with outspread wings, standing on a serpent whose head he is piercing
with a spear. He was also the guardian of the burgh of Dumfries. At
Inverlussa, in North Knapdale parish, Argyllshire, may be seen
the ancient chapel and burying-ground of Kilmichael. A well in the
immediate neighbourhood is dedicated, not to the archangel, but to
some local ecclesiastic, whose name is now forgotten. In reference to
this spring, Captain White says, “Trickling out from under a rock,
is the Priest’s Well (Tobar-ant-Sagairt), famous, like many another
spring of so-called holy water, for its miraculous healing virtues. I
believe the country people have by no means lost their faith in its
powers.” The extent of the archangel’s popularity in Scotland is shown
by his impress on topography. Among place-names we find at least
three Kilmichaels, and there are five parishes called Kirkmichael,
respectively in the counties of Dumfries, Ayr, Perth, Ross and
Cromarty, and Banff. A chapel is said to have been dedicated to him at
a very early date on the top of the Castle Rock at Edinburgh. Another
once stood in the demesne of Lovat, where was founded, about 1232,
a Priory for French monks, who were so struck with the beauty of the
spot that they called it Beau-lieu, now Beauly. Far west, in the outer
Hebrides, he had faithful votaries. On the island of Grimisay, close to
North Uist, a chapel styled Teampull Mhicheil was built in his honour
towards the close of the fourteenth century. It was the work of Amie,
otherwise Annie, wife of John of Isla, first Lord of the Isles, and
was used by her as an oratory when prevented by rough weather from
crossing the Minch to visit her friends in Lorne. That the archangel
should have had wells named after him is therefore not surprising.

Beds and Chairs of stone are connected with various early saints,
and as such relics are often associated with holy wells, some notice
of these may not be without interest. We have already seen that cave
life was rather popular among these early missionaries. Anything
of a rocky nature was therefore quite in line with their ascetic
ways. Hoy, one of the Orkney Islands, famous for its wild scenery,
and specially for the pillar of rock popularly styled The Old Man,
contains a curious monument of antiquity in the shape of a large
block of sandstone called The Dwarfie Stone, hollowed out long ago
by some unknown hand. The chamber, thus excavated, contains two beds
hewn out of the stone, one of them having a pillow of the same hard
material. On the floor of the chamber is a hearth where a fire had
evidently burned, and in the roof is a hole for the escape of the
smoke. Legend reports that a giant and his wife abode within; but the
hollow space was more probably the retreat of some hermit–perhaps,
of more than one, seeing there are two couches; though, possibly,
one of the supposed couches may have been a table and the other a
bed. Perhaps the anchorite had his spring whither he wandered daily
to slake his thirst; but, as far as we know, there is no tradition
regarding any holy well in the neighbourhood.

Martin, in connection with his visit to Orkney, refers to a stone
in the chapel of Ladykirk, in South Ronaldshay, called St. Magnus’s
Boat. The stone was four feet in length, and tapered away at both ends;
but its special feature was the print of two human feet on the upper
surface. A local tradition affirmed that when St. Magnus wanted on one
occasion to cross the Pentland Firth to Caithness he used this stone
as his boat, and that he afterwards carried it to Ladykirk. According
to another tradition, the stone served in pre-Reformation times for
the punishment of delinquents, who were obliged to stand barefooted
upon it by way of penance. There is a St. Magnus’s Well, not in South
Ronaldshay, however, but at Birsay, in the mainland of Orkney. When
Conval crossed from Ireland to Scotland, in the seventh century, he,
too, made a block of stone do duty as a boat. It found a resting-place
beside the river Cart, near Renfrew, and was known as Currus Sancti
Convalli. By its means miraculous cures were wrought on man and
beast. A rock at the mouth of Aldham Bay, in Haddingtonshire, is known
as St. Baudron’s Boat, and tradition says that he crossed on it from
the Bass, where he had a cell. This saint–called also Balthere and
Baldred–founded the monastery of Tyningham, and died early in the
seventh century. He must have been popular in the district, for, if we
can believe an old legend, the parishioners of the churches of Aldham,
Tyningham, and Prestonkirk tried to get possession of his relics. To
satisfy their demands his body was miraculously multiplied by three,
and each church was thus provided with one. Near Tantallon Castle is
St. Baldred’s Well, and a fissure in the cliff at Whitberry, not far
from the mouth of the Tyne, is known as St. Baldred’s Bed or Cradle.

Marnan or Marnoch, besides giving name to the town of Kilmarnock, in
Ayrshire, and to the Island of Inchmarnoch, off Bute, is remembered in
the name of the Banffshire parish of Marnoch, where he laboured as a
missionary in the seventh century. His head was kept as a revered relic
in the church of Aberchirder, and solemn oaths were sworn by it. Use
was also made of it for therapeutic purposes. It was periodically
washed, and the water was given to the sick for the restoration of
their health. This was not an isolated case. Bede tells us, that after
Cuthbert’s death, some of the water in which his body was washed,
was given to an epileptic boy along with some consecrated earth,
and brought about a cure. A stone, called St. Marnan’s Chair, is,
or was till lately, to be seen at Aberchirder; and a spring, near
the parish manse, bears the saint’s name. About a mile and a half
from the church of Aboyne, in Aberdeenshire, is St. Muchricha’s Well,
and beside it is a stone marked with a cross. At one time, this stone
was removed. According to a local tradition, it was brought back by
Muchricha, the guardian of the well, who seemed unwilling to lose
sight of the lost property. In the parish of Kildonan, Sutherland, two
or three blocks of stone, placed in the form of a seat, went by the
name of Cathair Donan, i.e., Donan’s Chair. In his cille or church,
Donan taught the truths of Christianity; and, seated in his cathair,
he administered justice to the people of the district. There is a
St. Donan’s Well in Eigg, the island where the saint and his companion
clerics were murdered by the natives early in the seventh century.

Patrick, the well-known missionary of Ireland, was reverenced also in
Scotland. There is a well dedicated to him in the parish of Muthill,
Perthshire, and close to it once stood a chapel, believed to have borne
his name. From the article on Muthill parish, in the “New Statistical
Account of Scotland,” we learn that in former times the inhabitants
of the district held the saint’s memory “in such veneration that, on
his day, neither the clap of the mill was heard nor the plough seen
to move in the furrow.” There is a well dedicated to him in Dalziel
parish, Lanarkshire. About sixty yards from St. Patrick’s temple, in
the island of Tyree, is a rock, with a hollow on the top, two feet
across and four feet deep, known to the islanders as St. Patrick’s
Vat. At any rate it was so named at the end of last century. In a
quarry at Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, used in connection with the
harbour works, once flowed a spring dedicated to the saint. On the
rock below were formerly to be seen certain marks, said, by tradition,
to be the impression made by his knees and left hand.

Columban or Columbanus, belonged, like Columba, to the sixth
century. Ireland was also his native land. When he left it he
travelled, not north like Columba, but south, and sought the sunny
lands of France and Italy. In the latter country he founded the
monastery of Bobbio among the Apennines. A writer in the “Antiquary”
for 1891 remarks, in connection with a recent visit to this monastery,
“I was taken to see a rock on the summit of a mountain called La
Spanna, near the cave to which the saint is said to have retired
for prayer and meditation. The impression of the saint’s left hand
is still shown upon the face of this rock. The healing power of the
patron’s hand is believed by the peasantry of the surrounding country
to linger still in the hollow marking, and many sufferers, climbing to
this spot, have found relief from laying their hand within its palm.”

In addition to his well beside the Molendinar, at Glasgow, Kentigern
had a chair and bed, both of stone. Concerning the latter, Bishop
Forbes, in his “Kalendars of Scottish Saints,” says, “Kentigern’s couch
was rather a sepulchre than a bed, and was of rock, with a stone for
a pillow, like Jacob. He rose in the night and sang psalms and hymns
till the second cock-crowing. Then he rushed into the cold stream, and
with eyes fixed on heaven he recited the whole psalter. Then, coming
out of the water he dried his limbs on a stone on the mountain called
Galath, and went forth for his day’s work.” Kentigern’s work took him
beyond the limits of Strathclyde. He seems to have visited the uplands
of Aberdeenshire. The church of Glengairn, a parish now incorporated
with Tullich and Glenmuick, was probably founded by him. At any rate,
it was dedicated to him. A tradition of his untiring zeal survived
in Aberdeenshire down to the beginning of last century. According to
a proverb then current, systematic beneficence was said to be “like
St. Mungo’s work, which was never done.” The Isle of May, in the
Firth of Forth, has, on one of its rocky sides, a small cave called
The Lady’s Bed, containing a pool in its floor. As Mr. Muir points
out in his “Ecclesiological Notes,” it is traditionally associated
with Thenew, Kentigern’s mother, “who,” according to the legend,
“after being cast into the sea at Aberlady, was miraculously floated
to the May, and thence, in the same manner, to Culross, where she
was stranded and gave birth to the saint.” Columba, when in Iona,
had a stone slab as a bed, and a block of stone as a pillow. Adamnan
mentions that, after the saint’s death, this pillow stone was placed
as a monument over his grave.

Guarding Lamlash Bay, where Haco gathered his shattered fleet after
the battle of Largs, in 1263, is Holy Island, known to the Norsemen
as Melansay. In this island is a cave, at one time inhabited by
the hermit Molio, and below it, near the beach, is his Holy Well,
for centuries reckoned efficacious in the cure of disease. A large
block of sandstone, flat on the top, with a series of recesses like
seats cut round its margin, constitutes the saint’s chair and table
combined. Molio was educated in Bute by his uncle Blane, to whom the
now ruined St. Blane’s Chapel was dedicated. He afterwards went to
Ireland, and was placed under Munna, who is still remembered in the
name of Kilmun, on Holy Loch, in the Firth of Clyde.

Inan, probably the same as Finan, gave name to Inchinnan, in
Renfrewshire, though the ancient church of the parish was dedicated,
not to him, but to Conval. The church at Lamington, in Lanarkshire,
was dedicated to Inan. St. Innian’s Well is in the parish. He is the
patron saint of Beith, in Ayrshire. The annual fair held there in
August is popularly called Tenant’s Day–Tenant being a corruption of
St. Inan. St. Inan’s Well and St. Inan’s Chair keep his memory fresh
in the district. Some particulars about them are given by Mr. Robert
Love in the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland”,
vol. xi.:–“This chair is in the rocky hill-face at the west end of
the Cuff hills, and from its elevated position a wide tract of country
from south to north is overlooked. At the base of the hill, and distant
from the chair some hundred yards, is a well called St. Inan’s Well,
a double spring, which issues from the rock at two points close by each
other, and which is almost unapproachable in respect of its abundance
and purity. This chair is formed in part, possibly by nature, out of
the rock of the hill. Its back and two sides are closed in, while,
in front, to the west, it is open. The seat proper is above the
ground in front about two feet two inches, is two feet four inches
in breadth, and one foot four inches in depth backwards.” Visitors
to the seven churches at Glendalough, in county Wicklow, Ireland,
are usually shown St. Kevin’s Seat on a block of rock. As a proof of
its genuineness the mark made by the saint’s leg and the impression
of his fingers are duly pointed out by the local guide.

In Kirkmaiden parish, Wigtownshire, the print of the Virgin’s knee
was at one time shown on a stone where she knelt in prayer. There was
a chapel dedicated to her in the neighbourhood. In Southend parish,
Kintyre, are the remains of St. Columba’s Chapel, standing in the
ancient burying-ground of Keil. In his “Ecclesiological Notes” Mr. Muir
observes, “Under an overhanging rock, close by on the roadside,
is St. Columba’s Well, and on the top of a hillock, overlooking the
west end of the burial ground there is a flat rock bearing on its
top the impress of two feet, made, it seems, by those of the saint
whilst he stood marking out and hallowing the spot on which his chapel
should rest.” In Bromfield parish, Cumberland, is a piece of granite
rock called St. Cuthbert’s Stane, and near it is a copious spring of
remarkably pure water. Brand, in his “Popular Antiquities,” says that
“this spring, probably from its having been anciently dedicated to
the same St. Cuthbert, is called Helly Well, i.e., Haly or Holy Well.”

Mr. R. C. Hope, in his “Holy Wells,” refers to a block of stone
near St. Madron’s Spring, in Cornwall, locally known as St. Madron’s
Bed. We are told that “on it impotent folk reclined when they came
to try the cold water cure.” In the same parish is a pre-historic
relic in the form of a granite block with a hole in the centre of
it. It is known in Cornish as Mean-an-Tol, i.e., the Stone of the
Hole. Its name in English is The Creeping Stone. Sickly children were
at one time passed through the hole a certain number of times, in the
belief that a cure would follow. This superstitious custom recalls what
was at one time done beside St. Paul’s Well, in the parish of Fyvie,
Aberdeenshire. Close to the well were the ruins of an old church. One
of its stones was supported on other two with a space below. It
went by the name of The Shargar Stone–shargar signifying a weakly
child. The stone, in this instance, got its name from the custom in
the district of mothers passing their ailing children through the
space below the stone, in the belief that whatever hindered their
growth would thereby be removed. Mr. Hope recounts a tradition
concerning Morwenstowe, in Devon, and its patron saint, Morwenna,
to the effect that when the parishioners wished to build a church,
Morwenna brought a large stone from the foot of the cliff to form
the font. Feeling fatigued by the climb she laid down the stone to
rest herself, and from the spot a spring gushed forth.

On the top of green Dunfillan, in the parish of Comrie, is a rocky seat
known in the district as Fillan’s Chair. Here, according to tradition,
the saint sat and gave his blessing to the country around. Towards
the end of last century, and doubtless even later, this chair was
associated with a superstitious remedy for rheumatism in the back. The
person to be cured sat in the chair, and then, lying on his back, was
dragged down the hill by the legs. The influence of the saint lingering
about the spot was believed to insure recovery. St. Fillan’s Spring,
at the hill-foot, has already been referred to, in connection with its
mysterious change of site. It was much frequented at one time by old
and young, especially on 1st May and 1st August. The health seekers
walked or were carried thrice round the spring from east to west,
following the course of the sun. The next part of the ritual consisted
in the use of the water for drinking and washing, in throwing a white
stone on the saint’s cairn, near the spring, and in leaving a rag as
an offering before departing. In 1791 not fewer than seventy persons
visited the spot at the dates mentioned. The writer of the article
on Comrie in the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland” supplies these
particulars, and adds, “At the foot of the hill there is a basin made
by the saint on the top of a large stone, which seldom wants water,
even in the greatest drought, and all who are distressed with sore eyes
must wash them three times with this water.” Fillan, to whom Comrie
parish is thus so much indebted, flourished about the sixth century,
and must not be confounded with the other missionary of the same name,
who dwelt more than a century later, in the straths of the Fillan
and the Dochart, between Tyndrum and Killin. Concerning the former,
Dr. Skene writes in his “Celtic Scotland”: “Fillan, called Anlobar or
‘the leper,’ whose day is 20th June, is said in the Irish calendar to
have been of Rath Erenn in Alban, or the fort of the Earn in Scotland,
and St. Fillans, at the east end of Loch Earn, takes its name from him;
while the church of Aberdour, on the northern shore of the Firth of
Forth, is also dedicated to him.” The other Fillan had his Chapel
and Holy Pool halfway between Tyndrum and Crianlarich. He is also
connected with Fife. At Pittenweem, in that county, his cave is to be
seen, and in it is his holy well, supplied with water from crevices
in the rock. At the mill of Killin, in Perthshire, once stood a block
of stone, known as St. Fillan’s Chair. Close to the spot flows the
Dochart, and some person or persons, whose muscles were stronger than
their antiquarian instincts, sought not unsuccessfully to throw the
relic into the river. The Renfrewshire parish of Killallan, united in
1760 to that of Houston, got its name from Fillan. Its ancient church,
now ruined, was dedicated to him. Near the ruins, are a stone with
a hollow in it and a spring, called respectively St. Fillan’s Seat
and St. Fillan’s Well.

About two miles and a half to the south-east of Dunfermline,
is a block of stone, believed to be the last remnant of a group
of pre-historic Standing Stones. According to tradition, it was
used by Queen Margaret, as a seat where she rested, when on her
way to and from the ferry over the Forth. A farm in the immediate
neighbourhood is called St. Margaret’s Stone Farm, after the block
in question. In his “Annals of Dunfermline” Dr. Henderson says,
“In 1856 this stone was removed to an adjacent site, by order of the
road surveyor, in order to widen the road which required no widening,
as no additional traffic was likely to ensue, but the reverse; it is
therefore much to be regretted that the old landmark was removed. It
is in contemplation to have the old stone replaced on its old site
(as nearly as possible) and made to rest, with secure fixings, on a
massive base or plinth stone.” Not far from the town of Cromarty is
St. Bennet’s Spring, beside the ruins of St. Bennet’s Chapel. Close to
the spot once stood a stone trough, termed The Fairies’ Cradle. Hugh
Miller, in his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,” says
that this trough was “famous for virtues derived from the saint, like
those of the well. For, if a child was carried away by the fairies
and some mischievous imp left in its place, the parents had only to
lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process,
their child would be immediately restored to them. The Fairies’
Cradle came to a sudden end about the year 1745. It was then broken
to pieces by the parish minister, with the assistance of two of his
elders, that it might no longer serve the purposes of superstition.”

The following, from the Rev. Dr. Gregor’s “Folklore of the North-East
of Scotland,” has certainly nothing to do with a saint, but in other
respects, has a bearing on the subject in hand:–“The Pot o’ Pittenyoul
is a small but romantic rock-pool in a little stream called the ‘Burn
o’ the Riggins,’ which flows past the village of Newmills of Keith. On
the edge of the pool are some hollows worn away by the water and the
small stones and sand carried down by the stream. These hollows to a
lively imagination have the shape of a seat, and the story is, that
the devil, at some far-back time, sat down on the edge of the pool and
left his mark.” Probably at an equally distant date, the devil made
his presence felt, further south, though in a different way. He had
great objections to a church built at Invergowrie, in Perthshire, and,
in order to knock it down, hurled a huge boulder across the Tay from
the opposite coast of Fife. We are not aware that the stone struck
the church. At any rate it can be seen in the grounds of Greystane,
a property to which, according to local tradition, it gave name. Sir
William Wallace, though never canonized, had certainly more of the
saint about him than the last-mentioned personage. We find various
traditions concerning him in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire. His
connection with Lanark is well known. At Biggar, he is said, by
Blind Harry, to have defeated the English, who greatly outnumbered
his forces. This battle took place on Biggar Moss. A few days before
the fight, he entered the enemy’s camp, disguised as a cadger or
pedlar, to discover the strength of the English army. Being pursued,
he turned on his assailants while crossing a bridge over Biggar
Water, a little to the west of the town. A foot-bridge there still
goes by the name of The Cadger’s Bridge. A rock with a hollow in it,
lying to the north of Vizzyberry, is locally styled Wallace’s Seat,
and a spring near the spot is still known as Wallace’s Well.

Healing and holy have an etymological kinship. The one is commonly
associated with matters relating to the body, and the other with
those relating to the soul. If the body is healed, it is said to be
whole and its owner hale; and if the soul is healed, it is said to
be holy. All these words have one idea in common, and hence we need
not wonder that healing wells were, as a rule, reckoned holy wells,
and vice versa. When speaking of the virtues of such wells, Mrs. Stone,
in her “God’s Acre,” puts the point exactly, if somewhat quaintly, when
she says, “Before chemistry was born, when medical science was little
known, these medical virtues, so plainly and indisputably ostensible,
were attributed to the beneficence of the saint or angel to whom the
spring had been dedicated.” Many still go to Moffat, Bridge-of-Allan,
and Strathpeffer to drink the waters, but probably, none of those
health-seekers now rely on magic for a cure. It was quite otherwise
in former times. Cures wrought at Lourdes are still believed, by many,
to be due to the blessing of the water by the Virgin Mary.

Not far from the highway between Ayr and Prestwick once stood a
lazar-house called King’s Ease or King’s Case, known in the sixteenth
century as Kilcaiss. Its ruins were to be seen till well on in the
present century. According to tradition, the hospital was founded
for lepers by King Robert Bruce, who was himself afflicted with a
disease believed to be leprosy. This was done as a thank-offering,
for benefit received from the water of a neighbouring well. The spring
was doubtless sacred to some saint, probably to Ninian, to whom the
hospital was dedicated, and we can safely infer that the patron got
the credit of the cure. To maintain the lepers the king gifted various
lands to the hospital, among others, those of Robertlone, in Dundonald
parish, and of Sheles and Spital-Sheles, in Kyle Stewart. The right
of presentation to the hospital was vested in the family of Wallace
of Craigie. At a later date the lands belonging to the charity passed
into other hands. In the third volume of his “Caledonia,” published
in 1824, Chalmers remarks, “The only revenue that remained to it was
the feu-duties payable from the lands granted in fee-firm, and these,
amounting to 64 bolls of meal and 8 marks Scots of money, with 16
threaves of straw for thatching the hospital, are still paid. For more
than two centuries past the diminished revenue has been shared among
eight objects of charity in equal shares of 8 bolls of meal and 1 mark
Scots to each. The leprosy having long disappeared, the persons who are
now admitted to the benefit of this charity are such as labour under
diseases which are considered as incurable, or such as are in indigent
circumstances.” In the time of Charles I., the persons enjoying the
benefit of the charity lived in huts or cottages in the vicinity of
the chapel. In 1787 the right of presentation was bought from the
Wallaces by the burgh of Ayr, and the poorhouse there is thus the
lineal descendant of King Robert’s hospital. Mr. R. C. Hope, in his
“Holy Wells,” alludes to the interesting fact that Bruce had a free
pass from the English king to visit Muswell, near London, close to the
site of the Alexandra Palace. This well, dedicated to St. Lazarus, at
one time belonged to the hospital order of St. John’s, Clerkenwell,
and was resorted to in cases of leprosy. Bruce’s foundation at
Ayr recalls another at Stony Middleton, in Derbyshire. The latter,
however, was a chapel, and not a hospital. Tradition says that a
crusader, belonging to the district, was cured of leprosy by means
of the mineral water there, and that in gratitude he built a chapel
and dedicated it to his patron saint, Martin.

In glancing at the history of holy wells, it is not difficult
to understand why certain springs were endowed with mysterious
properties. When there were no chemists to analyse mineral springs,
anyone tasting the water would naturally enough think that there was
something strange about it, a notion that would not vanish with the
first draught. The wonder, too, would grow if the water was found
to put fresh vigour into wearied frames. Alum wells, like the one
in Carnwath parish, Lanarkshire, would, through their astringent
qualities, arrest attention. A well at Halkirk, Caithness, must have
been a cause of wonder, if we judge by the description given of it
in the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland,” where we read, that
“on its surface lies always a thin beautiful kind of substance, that
varies like the plumage of the peacock displayed in all its glory to
the rays of the sun.”

The petrifying power of certain springs would also tend to bring them
into notice. There is a famous well of this kind near Tarras Water,
in Canonbie parish, Dumfriesshire. In Kirkmaiden parish, Wigtownshire,
is a dropping cave, known as Peter’s Paps. In former times it was
resorted to by persons suffering from whooping-cough. The treatment
consisted in standing with upturned face below the drop, and allowing
it to fall into the open mouth. For more than two centuries and
a half, the mineral waters of Peterhead have been famous for both
internal and external use, though their fame is not now so great as
formerly. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, they were spoken
of as one of the six wonders of Buchan. The principal well is situated
to the south of the town, and is popularly called the Wine Well. Its
water is strongly impregnated with carbonic acid, muriate of iron,
muriate of lime, and muriate of soda. The chalybeate spring in the
Moss of Melshach, in Kennethmont parish, had at one time a considerable
local reputation for the cure of man and beast. Clothes of the former
and harness of the latter were left beside the well. Visits were
paid to it in the month of May. Another Aberdeenshire health-resort
formerly attracted many visitors, viz., Pannanich, near Ballater, with
its four chalybeate springs. These are said to have been accidentally
discovered, about the middle of last century, but were then probably
only rediscovered. They were at first found beneficial in the case of
scrofula, and were afterwards deemed infallible in all diseases. In his
“Antiquities and Scenery of the North of Scotland,” Cordiner, under
date 1776, writes: “In coming down these hilly regions, stopped the
first night at ‘Pananach-lodge:’ an extensive building opposite to the
strange rocks and pass of Bolliter. There, a mineral well and baths,
whose virtues have been often experienced, are become much frequented
by the infirm. The lodge, containing a number of bed-chambers,
and a spacious public room, is fitted up for the accommodation of
those who come to take the benefit of the waters. Goat whey is also
there obtained in the greatest perfection.” Almost a century later,
another visitor to the spot, viz., Queen Victoria, thus writes,
in her “More Leaves from the Journal of a Life in the Highlands”:
“I had driven with Beatrice to Pannanich wells, where I had been
many years ago. Unfortunately, almost all the trees which covered
the hills have been cut down. We got out and tasted the water, which
is strongly impregnated with iron, and looked at the bath and at the
humble, but very clean, accommodation in the curious little old inn,
which used to be very much frequented.” The Well of Spa, at Aberdeen,
was more famous in former times than it is now. There are two springs,
both of them chalybeate. The amount of iron in the water, however,
diminished very considerably more than fifty years ago–a change due to
certain digging operations in the neighbourhood. The present structure
connected with the well was renovated in 1851. It was built in 1670
to replace an earlier one, repaired by George Jamieson, the artist,
but soon afterwards completely demolished by the overflowing of the
adjoining Denburn. The present building, according to Mr. A. Jervise,
in the fourth volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland,” “bears representations of the Scottish Thistle, the
Rose of England, and the Fleur-de-lis of France, surmounting this

‘As heaven gives me
So give I thee.’

Below these words is a carving of the rising sun, and the following
altered quotation from Horace:–

‘Hoc fonte derivata Salus
In patriam populumque fluat.’

“It appears,” continues Mr. Jervise, “that the virtues of this Spa were
early known and appreciated, for in 1615 record says that there was
‘a long wyde stone which conveyed the waters from the spring, with
the portraicture of six Apostles hewen upon either side thereof.’ It
is described as having then been ‘verie old and worne.'”

An unusual kind of holy well, viz., one, in which salt water takes
the place of fresh, is to be found in the case of the Chapel Wells
in Kirkmaiden parish, Wigtownshire, half way between the bays of
Portankill and East Tarbet. About thirty yards to the north-west are
the ruins of St. Medan’s Chapel, partly artificial and partly natural,
a cave forming the inner portion. In days gone by, the spot was much
frequented on the first Sunday of May (O.S.), called Co’ Sunday, after
this cave or cove. Dr. Robert Trotter, who examined the chapel and
the wells in 1870, gives the results of the observations in the eighth
volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland”
(new series). He says, “These wells–three natural cavities in a
mass of porphyritic trap–are within the tide mark, and are filled
by the sea at high water of ordinary tides. The largest is circular,
five feet in diameter at the top, and four feet at one side, shelving
down to five feet at the other, and is wider inside than at the top,
something like a kailpot in fact, and it is so close to the edge
of the rock that at one place its side is not two inches thick. The
other wells almost touch it, and are about one foot six inches wide
and deep respectively.” Sickly children were brought to be bathed,
the time selected being just before sunrise. Dr. Trotter mentions
that children are still brought occasionally, sometimes from long
distances. The ceremony described to him by an eyewitness was as
follows:–“The child was stripped naked, and taken by the spaul–that
is, by one of the legs–and plunged headforemost into the big well till
completely submerged; it was then pulled out, and the part held on by
was dipped in the middle well, and then the whole body was finished
by washing the eyes in the smallest one, altogether very like the
Achilles and Styx business, only much more thorough. An offering was
then left in the old chapel, on a projecting stone inside the cave
behind the west door, and the cure was complete.”

Much uncertainty attaches to Medan or Medana, the tutelar saint of
the spot. One legend makes her a contemporary of Ninian. According to
another, she lived about one hundred years later. Dr. Skene thinks
she is probably the same as Monenna, otherwise Edana, who is said
to have founded churches in Galloway, and at Edinburgh, Stirling
and Longforgan. Kirkmaiden parish, at one time called Kirkmaiden in
Ryndis, is believed to be named after her, like the other parish known
as Kirkmaiden in Farnes, now united to the parish of Glasserton. An
incident in her history has a bearing on the present subject. According
to the Aberdeen Breviary, she fled from her home in Ireland to escape
from the importunities of a certain noble knight who sought to marry
her. Accompanied by two handmaidens, she crossed to Galloway and took
up her abode in the Rhinns. The knight followed her. When Medana saw
him she placed herself along with her maidens on a rock in the sea. By
a miracle, this rock became a boat, and she was conveyed over the water
to Farnes. Again the knight appeared. This time Medana sought refuge
among the branches of a tree, and, from this coign of vantage, asked
her lover what it was that made him pursue her so persistently. “Your
face and eyes,” replied the knight. Thereupon Medana plucked out
her eyes and threw them down at the feet of her lover, who was so
filled with grief and penitence that he immediately departed. On the
spot where her eyes fell a spring of water gushed forth, and in it
Medana washed her face, doubtless thereby restoring her sight. There
is much to favour the view taken by Dr. Trotter: that “possibly the
well was the original institution; the cave a shelter or dwelling
for the genius who discovered the miraculous virtues of the water,
and his successors; and the chapel a later edition for the benefit of
the clergy, who supplanted the old religion by grafting Christianity
upon it, St. Medana being a still later institution.”

St. Catherine’s Balm Well, at Liberton, near Edinburgh,
is still considered beneficial in the treatment of cutaneous
affections. The spring is situated on a small estate, called after
it, St. Catherine’s. Peter Swave, who visited Scotland in 1535,
on a political mission, mentions that near Edinburgh there was a
spot in a monastery where oil flowed out of the ground. This was
his way of describing the Balm Well. Bitumenous particles, produced
by decomposition of coal in seams beneath, intermittently appear on
the surface of the water. This curious phenomenon must have attracted
attention at a very early period, and one can easily understand why the
well was in consequence regarded with superstitious reverence. When
speaking of this well, Brome, who visited Scotland about 1700,
observes, “It is of a marvellous nature, for as the coal whereof it
proceeds is very apt quickly to kindle into a flame, so is the oil
of a sudden operation to heal all scabs and tumours that trouble the
outward skin; and the head and hands are speedily healed by virtue
of this oil, which retains a very sweet smell.” According to Boece,
the fountain sprang from a drop of oil, brought to Queen Margaret
of Scotland, from the tomb of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. The same
writer mentions that Queen Margaret built a chapel to St. Catherine,
in the neighbourhood of the spring. In 1504 an offering was made by
James IV. in this chapel, described as “Sanct Kathrine’s of the oly,
i.e., oily well.” The later history of the spring is thus referred
to by Sir Daniel Wilson, in his “Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden
Time”: “When James VI. returned to Scotland, in 1617, he visited the
well, and commanded it to be enclosed with an ornamental building
with a flight of steps to afford ready access to the healing waters;
but this was demolished by the soldiers of Cromwell, and the well now
remains enclosed with plain stone-work, as it was partially repaired
at the Restoration.” About three miles to the north of the well,
once stood the Convent of St. Catherine of Sienna–a religious
foundation which gave name to the part of Edinburgh still called
“The Sciennes.” What Sir Daniel Wilson describes as “an unpicturesque
fragment of the ruins” served to the middle of the present century,
and perhaps, even later, as a sheep-fold for the flocks pasturing in
the adjoining meadow. Lord Cockburn, in his “Memorials of His Time,”
mentions that in his boyhood, about 1785, “a large portion of the
building survived.” Before the Reformation the nuns of this convent
walked annually in solemn procession to the Balm Well. The saints to
whom the convent and the spring were respectively dedicated were, of
course, not identical, though bearing the same name. The coincidence
of name, however, evidently led to these yearly visits. As it may be
taken for granted that the two Catherines were on friendly terms, the
pilgrimages doubtless proved a benefit to all who took part in them. At
any rate, it is safe to assume that the health of the pilgrims would be
the better, and not the worse, for their walk in the fresh country air.

In the valley below the Dean Bridge, Edinburgh, close to the Water of
Leith, is the sulphur spring known as St. Bernard’s Well–traditionally
connected with Bernard the Abbot of Clairvaux. In his “Journey
through Scotland,” about 1793, Heron remarks: “The citizens of
Edinburgh repaired eagerly to distant watering-places, without
inquiring whether they might find medicinal water at home. But within
these few years, Lord Gardenstone became proprietor of St. Bernard’s
Well. His lordship’s philanthropy and public spirit suggested to him
the possibility of rendering its waters more useful to the public. He
has, at a very considerable expense, built a handsome Grecian edifice
over the spring, in which the waters are distributed by a proper
person, and at a very trifling price. His lordship’s endeavours
have accomplished his purpose. The citizens of Edinburgh are now
persuaded that these waters are salutary in various cases; and have,
particularly, a singular tendency to give a good breakfasting appetite;
in consequence of which, old and young, males and females, have,
for these two or three last summers, crowded to pay their morning
respects to Hygeia in the chapel which Lord Gardenstone has erected
to her.” The last allusion is to a statue of Hygeia placed within the
building on its erection, in 1789. The goddess of health, however,
eventually showed signs of decrepitude; and, about a hundred years
later, the original statue was replaced by one in marble through
the liberality of the late Mr. William Nelson, who also restored the
pump-room and made the surroundings more attractive.

Coming next to consider the case of springs not possessing medicinal
qualities, in other words, such as have no taste save that of
clear and sparkling water, we find here, too, many a trace of
superstition. Springs of this kind were probably holy wells first,
and then healing wells. We have already seen that, in a large number
of instances, fountains became sacred through their connection with
early saints. It usually happened that the Christian missionary took up
his abode near some fountain, or river, whence he could get a supply
of water for his daily needs. In later times the well or stream was
endowed with miraculous properties. Water was also used for purposes
of bodily discipline. It was a practice among some of the early saints
to stand immersed in it while engaged in devotion. The colder the
water, the better was it for the purpose. Special significance, too,
was given to water through its connection with baptism, particularly
when the rite was administered to persons who had only recently
emerged from heathenism.

At Burghead, in Elginshire, is an interesting rock-cut basin supplied
with water from a spring. Burghead is known to have been the site
of an early Christian church, and Dr. James Macdonald believes that
the basin in question was anciently used as a baptistery. All trace
of it, and well-nigh all memory of it, had vanished till the year
1809. Extensive alterations were then in progress at the harbour, and
a scarcity of water was felt by the workmen. A hazy tradition about
the existence of a well, where the ground sounded hollow when struck,
was revived. Digging operations were begun, and, at a depth of between
twenty and thirty feet below the surface, the basin was discovered. We
quote the following details from Dr. Macdonald’s article on the subject
in the “Antiquary” for April, 1892:–“Descending into a hollow by a
flight of twenty well-worn steps, most of them also hewn out of the
solid rock, we come upon the reservoir. The dimensions of the basin or
piscina are as follow–greatest breadth of the four sides, ten feet
eight inches, eleven feet, ten feet ten inches, and ten feet seven
inches respectively; depth, four feet four inches. One part of the
smooth bottom had been dug up at the time of the excavations, either
because it had projected above the rest, as if for some one to stand
upon, or because it was thought that by doing so the capacity of the
well and perhaps the supply of the water would be increased. Between
the basin and the perpendicular sides of the reservoir a small ledge
of sandstone has been left about two feet six inches in breadth. These
sides measure sixteen feet three inches, sixteen feet seven inches,
sixteen feet nine inches, and seventeen feet respectively; and the
height from the ledge upwards is eleven feet nine inches. The angles,
both of the basin and its rock walls, are well rounded. In one corner
the sandstone has been left in the form of a semi-circular pedestal,
measuring two feet nine inches by one foot ten inches, and one foot
two inches in height; whilst in that diagonally opposite there is a
circular hole, five inches in diameter and one foot four inches in
depth. From the ledge, as you enter, two steps of irregular shape
and rude workmanship lead down into the basin. The sides of the
reservoir are fissured and rent by displacement of the strata; and
portions of the rock, that have given way from time to time, have
been replaced by modern masonry. The arched roof is also modern.” An
Irish legend accounts for the origin of Lough-shanan, in County Clare,
by connecting it with the baptism of Senanus, from whom it derived
its name. “The saint, while still an infant, was miraculously gifted
with speech and told his mother to pluck three rushes in a valley near
her home. When this was done, a lake appeared, and in it Senanus was
baptised according to a form of words prescribed by himself.”

In the eighth volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland” (new series), Sir Daniel Wilson gives an account of the
ancient burying-ground of Kilbride, some three miles from Oban. “I
had visited the venerable cemetery repeatedly,” he tells us, “and
had carefully investigated its monuments, without heeding the sacred
fountain which wells up among the bracken and grass, about a dozen
yards from the gate of the churchyard, and flows in a stream down the
valley. Yet, on inquiry, I learned that it was familiarly known as
Tober-an-easbuig, i.e., The Bishop’s Well or The Holy Well. Here, as
we may presume, the primitive missionary and servant of St. Bridget,
by whom Christianity was introduced into the wild district of Lorne,
baptised his first converts; and here, through many succeeding
generations, the neophytes were signed with the sign of the cross,
and taught the mystic significance of the holy rite.”

The thoughts suggested by the sight of a crystal spring are alluded to
by Mr. Hunt in his “Romances of the West of England,” where he says,
“The tranquil beauty of the rising waters, whispering the softest
music, like the healthful breathing of a sleeping infant, sends a
feeling of happiness through the soul of the thoughtful observer,
and the inner man is purified by its influence, as the outer man is
cleansed by ablution.” This is the poetic view; but the superstitious
view is not far to seek.

In the “Home of a Naturalist,” Mrs. Saxby thus recounts a Shetland
superstition of a gruesome kind:–“There is a fine spring well near
Watlie, called Heljabrün, and the legend of it is this: A wandering
packman (of the Claud Halcro class) was murdered and flung into
Heljabrün. Its water had always been known to possess healing power,
and, after becoming seasoned by the unfortunate pedlar’s remains,
the virtue in the water became even more efficacious. People came
from far and near to procure the precious fluid. All who took it away
had to throw three stones or a piece of ‘white money’ into the well,
and the water never failed to cure disease.”

On Soutra Hill, the most westerly ridge of the Lammermoors,
once stood the hospital built by Malcolm IV., about 1164, for the
reception of wayfarers. It was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Every
vestige of the building was removed between forty and fifty years
ago except a small aisle, appropriated in the seventeenth century by
the Pringles of Beatman’s Acre as a burial vault. A short distance
below the site of the hospital is a spring of pure water, locally
known as Trinity Well. In former times it was much visited for
its healing virtues. A similar reputation was for long enjoyed by
St. Mungo’s Well, on the west side of St. Mungo’s Hill, in the parish
of Huntly, Aberdeenshire. In Fortingall parish, Perthshire, on the
hillside near the Old Castle of Garth, is a limpid spring called by
the natives Fuaran n’ Gruarach, and also Fuaran n’ Druibh Chasad,
signifying the Well of the Measles and the Well of the Whooping-Cough
respectively. Mr. James Mackintosh Gow describes the locality in an
article in the eighth volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of
Antiquaries of Scotland” (new series). He says, “It was famous in the
district for the cure of these infantile diseases, and nearly all I
spoke to on the subject had themselves been taken to the well, or had
taken their own children to drink the water; and when an epidemic
of the maladies occurred my informant remarked on the curious and
amusing spectacle the scene presented on a summer morning, when groups
of children, with their mothers, went up the hill in procession. The
last epidemic of whooping-cough occurred in 1882, when all the children
of the neighbourhood were taken to the well.” Some forty yards higher
up the slope than the well, is an earth-fast boulder of mica schist,
having on one of its sides two natural cavities. The larger of these
holds about a quart and is usually filled with rain water. “It was the
custom,” Mr. Gow tells us, “to carry the water from the well (perhaps
the well was at one time at the foot of the stone) and place it in
the cavity, and then give the patients as much as they could take,
the water being administered with a spoon made from the horn of a
living cow, called a beodhare or living horn; this, it appears,
being essential to effect a cure.” On the farm of Balandonich,
in Athole, is a spring famous, till a comparatively recent period,
for the cure of various maladies. A story is told in the district of
a woman, unable to walk through rheumatism, having been brought in a
wheel-barrow from her home four miles away. She bathed her limbs in
the spring, and returned home on foot.

Hugh Miller, in his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,”
recounts a tradition concerning a certain spring near the town of
Cromarty known as Fiddler’s Well, from the name of the young man
who discovered its virtues. The water gushes out from the side of
a bank covered with moss and daisies. The tradition, considerably
abbreviated, is as follows:–William Fiddler and a companion were
seized with consumption at the same time. The latter died not long
afterwards, and Fiddler, though wasted to a shadow, was able to follow
his friend’s body to the grave. That night, in a dream, he heard the
voice of his dead companion, who told him to meet him at a certain spot
in the neighbourhood of the town. Thither he went, still in his dream,
and seated himself on a bank to await his coming. Then, remembering
that his friend was dead, he burst into tears. “At this moment a
large field-bee came humming from the west and began to fly round his
head…. It hummed ceaselessly round and round him, until at length
its murmurings seemed to be fashioned into words, articulated in the
voice of his deceased companion–‘Dig, Willie, and drink!’ it said,
‘Dig, Willie, and drink!’ He accordingly set himself to dig, and no
sooner had he torn a sod out of the bank than a spring of clear water
gushed from the hollow.” Next day he took the bee’s advice. He found
a spring, drank the water, and regained his health. Hugh Miller adds,
“its virtues are still celebrated, for though the water be only simple
water it must be drunk in the morning, and as it gushes from the bank;
and, with pure air, exercise, and early rising for its auxiliaries,
it continues to work cures.”

We need not multiply examples of non-mineral healing wells. Whatever
benefit may be derived from them cannot be ascribed to any specially
medicinal quality in their waters. The secret of their popularity is
to be sought for in the annals of medical folklore, and not in those
of scientific medicine.

Certain springs got the credit of warding off disease. On the island
of Gigha, near the west coast of Kintyre, is a farm called Ardachad
or High Field. Tradition says that a plague once visited the island,
but that the people, belonging to the farm, escaped its ravages. This
immunity was ascribed to the good offices of a well, in an adjoining
field. The high situation of the farm and the presence of good water
would tend to prolong health, without the intervention of magic. The
Rev. Dr. Gregor, in his “Folklore of the North-East of Scotland,”
alludes to St. Olaus’ Well in Cruden parish, Aberdeenshire. Its
virtues are recorded in the couplet–

“St. Olav’s Well, low by the sea
Where peat nor plague shall never be.”

On the top of the Touch Hills, in Stirlingshire, rises St. Corbet’s
Spring. The belief formerly prevailed that whoever drank its water
before sunrise on the first Sunday of May would have life prolonged
for another year. As a consequence, crowds flocked to the spot early
on the day in question. In 1840 some old people were still living who,
in their younger days, had taken part in these annual pilgrimages. In
mediæval times, the belief prevailed that no one baptised with the
water of Trinity Gask Well, Perthshire, would be attacked by the
plague. When water for baptism was drawn from some holy well in the
neighbourhood, its use, in most instances, was doubtless due to a
belief in its prophylactic power. As already mentioned, baptisms in
St. Machar’s Cathedral, Old Aberdeen, were at one time administered
in water taken from the saint’s spring. Before the Reformation the
water used at the chapel of Airth, in Stirlingshire, is believed to
have been procured from a well, dedicated to the Virgin, near Abbeyton
Bridge. We do not know of any spring in Scotland with a reputation
for the prevention of hydrophobia. St. Maelrubha’s Well, on Innis
Maree, is said to have lost its efficacy for a time through contact
with a mad dog. What happened, when a mad bull was plunged into the
Holy Pool at Strathfillan, will be alluded to later. In the village
of Les Saintes Maries, in the south of France, is an interesting
twelfth-century church with a well in the crypt. The water, when
drunk, is said to prevent any evil consequences from the bite of
a mad dog. Mr. E. H. Barker gives an account of this well in his
“Wayfaring in France.” He says, “The curé told me that about thirty
people, who had been bitten by dogs said to be rabid, came annually
to drink the water; and, he added, ‘not one of them has ever gone
mad.’ M. Pasteur had become a formidable rival of the well.”

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