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Holy well in Michaelstow churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Michaelstow, Cornwall

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.5778 / 50°34'39"N

Longitude: -4.7119 / 4°42'42"W

OS Eastings: 208087.059033

OS Northings: 78847.881236

OS Grid: SX080788

Mapcode National: GBR N3.DTQY

Mapcode Global: FRA 170J.XSV

Entry Name: Holy well in Michaelstow churchyard

Scheduled Date: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016366

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30422

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Michaelstow

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Tudy with Michaelstow

Church of England Diocese: Truro

Details

The monument includes a medieval holy well in the churchyard at Michaelstow.
The holy well survives as a stone structure built into the side of a hill to
the south east of the church. The well consists of a wall of squared granite
blocks 1.24m high by 2.07m wide, with a large, almost square niche or recess
set centrally into it, and another, smaller recess on its south west side.
The large recess measures 0.75m wide by 0.76m deep and is constructed of
squared granite blocks, with a large piece of granite forming the lintel over
the top of the opening. A slab of slate set on edge forms a raised edge or
lip, 0.22m high, at the base of the opening. Another large piece of slate is
set in the floor of the recess. On the south west side of the recess is a
small square hole leading to the small recess, and also a narrow rectangular
slot which runs behind it. This small recess measures 0.46m high by 0.22m wide
and 0.41m long. The top of the recess is formed by a shaped block of granite
forming a simple pointed arch over the the opening. In its base is a small
granite trough, to collect water.
Immediately in front of the well is a level, slate paved area, 1.82m wide,
with a large block of granite, 1.01m long, forming a seat or bench to the
north east side. Next to this is an upright pillar of granite. There is a wall
of squared granite blocks to either side of the paved area, and a path leads
up a flight of six modern granite steps to the churchyard.
This holy well dates to the medieval period, and it has been suggested that it
may date to the 12th century. In 1990 the earth and debris of many years was
removed and the well was partly restored. Water from the well was formerly
used in baptisms, but now it is usually dry. The well is Listed Grade II.
The gravel surface of the modern footpath to the north east of the holy well
where it falls within its protective margin, is excluded from the scheduling
but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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 effect 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. 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.

This holy well survives well and appears to have undergone little restoration
or alteration. It is considered to be of medieval date, possibly 12th century.
It is a good example of a simply constructed holy well, which is close to the
parish church, and from which water was taken to be used in baptisms.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Wood, Reverend R, A guide to the ancient parish church of Michaelstow, (1996)
Other
Consulted July 1996, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 17787,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 07/17; Pathfinder Series 1338
Source Date: 1988
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:

Source: Historic England

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