Ancient Monuments

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Holy well 30m north west of St Levan's Chapel

A Scheduled Monument in St. Levan, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.0397 / 50°2'23"N

Longitude: -5.6593 / 5°39'33"W

OS Eastings: 138081.267858

OS Northings: 21926.96413

OS Grid: SW380219

Mapcode National: GBR DXDK.Y90

Mapcode Global: VH05T.V8HD

Entry Name: Holy well 30m north west of St Levan's Chapel

Scheduled Date: 20 July 1972

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1004248

English Heritage Legacy ID: CO 804

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: St. Levan

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Levan

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a holy well, situated by a path on the steep cliffs above Porth Chapel. The holy well survives as a small, roofless, rectangular building measuring approximately 3m long by 2.5m wide. It has mortared walls standing to 1.2m in height set onto a single stone slab over the sump of the well which is in turn covered by lintels. The doorway is on the eastern side of the building.

Known locally as 'St Levan's Well', it is associated with St Levan, a missionary who performed baptisms at the well. It was first recorded by Borlase in around 1750 and at that time still had a roof and a flight of steps connecting it to the nearby chapel. By the time Blight recorded it, the roof and steps had vanished. By 1894 Quiller-Couch noted the building had all but disappeared. According to Russell the well and steps were excavated in 1931 by Dr V Favell but there are no known records of this work. The well has been recently consolidated.

The nearby chapel is the subject of a separate scheduling.

The well is Listed Grade II (69769).

Sources: HER:-
PastScape Monument No:-421313

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations. The custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites is also known to have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain and, although Christian wells have been identified from as early as the 6th century AD, it is clear that some holy wells originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the Reformation (c.1540) ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore customs at existing holy wells often continued, in some cases to the present day. The holy wells sometimes functioned as sites for baptism but they were also revered for less tangible reasons, some of which may have had origins in pre- Christian customs, such as folklore beliefs in the healing powers of the water and its capacity to affect a desired outcome for future events. Associated rituals often evolved, usually requiring the donation of an object or coin to retain the 'sympathy' of the well for the person seeking its benefits. At their simplest, holy wells may be unelaborated natural springs with associated religious traditions. Structural additions may include lined well shafts or conduit heads on springs, often with a tank to gather the water at the surface. The roofing of walled enclosures to protect the water source and define the sacred area created well houses which may be simple, unadorned small structures closely encompassing the water source, or larger buildings, decorated in the prevailing architectural style and facilitating access with features such as steps to the water source and open areas with stone benching where visitors might shelter. At their most elaborate, chapels, and sometimes churches, may have been built over the well or adjacent well house. The number of holy wells is not known but estimates suggest at least 600 nationally. Of these, over 200 are recorded from Cornwall, providing one of the highest densities of surviving examples. They provide important information on the nature of religious beliefs and practices and on the relationship between religion and the landscape during the medieval period. Despite partial excavation, the holy well 30m north west of St Levan's Chapel will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to its construction, longevity and overall landscape context. It is closely associated with a specific saint and the nearby chapel forms part of this religious site.

Source: Historic England

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