Home Manx LifeChurch Homage to the Holy Well

Homage to the Holy Well

by Bernadette Weyde

Almost invariably there was a spring or a gentle stream nearby every Keeill. It served the purpose of baptism and retained the respect associated with it in pagan times. It is regrettable that so many of them, linked for long ages with the religious aspirations of our people, should have been wantonly destroyed.

Chibbyr Unjin, ‘the Well of the Ash’, is not many yards away from the site of a 6th century Keeill.

We, today, can hardly imagine the extent of the influence upon our ancestors of these holy wells. So much were they treasured that even parish boundaries have been so formed as to capture the blessing that they shed, and saints’ names were given to them. The boundary between Begoade in Conchan and Cooilroi in Lonan is a stream. In order to secure a much desired well on the Conchan side of the stream, Lonan has taken a small bite from her neighbour.

There are other instances of this keenness to obtain the virtues of the sacred waters. A curious example is that of Chibbyr Roney which was captured from Braddan by Marown, crossing the little stream of the Rheyn in order to do so.

The plan shows how the Parish Boundary (which at this point is the Rheyn stream) is departed from in order to secure to Marown the sacred well.

This chibbyr — ‘Ronan’s Well ‘ — was the traditional well from which the water for baptisms was drawn for Marown Church. It was much relied upon by Baldwin people for cures, and was considered especially effective if the water were taken ‘when the Books were open,’ i.e. during the celebration of Mass. People in sore straits for a remedy, it was affirmed, ‘would put in the well a chosen stone with a spit.’ By so doing it was believed that they transferred their ailments to the care of the holy well.

There is a story that in these times, the primitive altar piece belonging to the chapel, if it were not too large, ‘the stone of the church,’ would sometimes accompany the saggart* when he went to a dying man to administer extreme unction.

Certain holy wells had the reputation of being of comfort and consolation at the time when they sorely needed these. The writer knows of more than one case in which old dying men had appealed for ‘a drink of the water from Farrane Fing,’ and another for a draught from Chibbyr yn Noe in Lezayre, before their peaceful passing. It was looked upon as a blessed sacrament.

Keeill Pherick in Kirk Michael, possesses the ruins of a Culdee’s Cell, very similar to that at Lag ny Keeillee, and is thought to be of about the same date — seventh century. It is not many yards away from Spooyt Vane waterfall, which drops steeply towards the Keeill in the glen below.

It is told that the last priest who officiated in Keeill Pherick was guilty of mending his carranes** on a Sunday and thereby met with a sudden and dreadful end. According to the story, the priest was so intent on the business that he did not notice people passing by.

His housekeeper said ‘Are you not ashamed to be doing work on the Sabbath and the people waiting at the chapel for you?‘ ‘What art thou talking of woman?‘ he said, ‘go and count the eggs and see how many are in the nest.‘ For the priest had a hen which laid an egg every day and they were collected once a week, and that is how he knew what day it would be. So the woman went, and came back and said, ‘Seven eggs there are.’

Then the priest threw down his tools and ran. He had waxed the long laces of his carranes and in his hurry failed to tie them. When near the Spooyt he tripped, fell over and was swept away.

* saggart = priest

** carranes = hide sandals

(source: Island Heritage (1952) by William Cubbon)

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