19th October

Wells Of Life

Jesus, tired out, sat down by Jacob’s well. A Samaritan woman came to draw up some water… Jesus said to her, the water I give to a person will be a well of everlasting life. John 4: 6, 7, 14.

This is the traditional English day for dressing wells. Wells were a focal point for a community’s water supplies, meetings and worship both before and after Christianity came. The Christian church met at the sites of wells, and used water as a powerful expression of God’s power to sustain, cleanse, and renew. This parallels in Celtic lands what the Bible records about wells.

Church Councils in Gaul and Irish church rules forbade the worship of wells, yet we learn of Celtic Christians being divinely guided to discover a well when a water supply was needed, using well water to bless pilgrims, bathing in wells and being healed, using wells as waymarks of God’s deeds, and establishing churches beside wells. Adamnan’s Life of Columba describes a poisonous well which Picts ‘worshipped as a god’ and which ‘was converted by the saint into a blessed well’. David is reputed to have done something similar at Glastonbury where he came to a well full of poison, blessed it, and caused it to become warm; it was called the Hot Baths.

The well at Ffynnon Enddwyn in Wales became famous when St. Enddwyn was cured after bathing in it. Ffynnon Ddyfnog well in Wales is said to owe its healing properties to the action of St. Ddyfnog who did penance there by standing under the cold water. John of Tynemouth wrote in 1350 that the waters from the well on Ramsey Island, ‘when drunk by sick folk, convey health of body to all’ A man suffering from a swelling in his stomach drank from it, vomited out a frog, and was cured immediately! It was said that God caused wells to come to light for the needs of David and Teilo, and that this well water tasted as pleasant as wine. Celtic Christian leaders often held baptisms at wells.

Today the advertisements of water companies emphasise truths such as ‘every drop is precious, we should never take water for granted’. Today baptisms are held in swimming pools as well as in church fonts. Today also prophet voices call us to ‘dig up the ancient wells’ -that is, God-given sources of renewal in our heritage.

Help me to drink deeply,
And rediscover the ancient sources of renewal