Ancient Monuments

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Chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs

A Scheduled Monument in Sancreed, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.1075 / 50°6'26"N

Longitude: -5.6127 / 5°36'45"W

OS Eastings: 141785.095787

OS Northings: 29293.510348

OS Grid: SW417292

Mapcode National: GBR DXJD.FVR

Mapcode Global: VH05G.NKNG

Entry Name: Chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs

Scheduled Date: 2 January 1968

Last Amended: 25 November 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017045

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31855

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Sancreed

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Sancreed

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a medieval chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs, 500m
south west of Sancreed.
The chapel survives as a small rectangular granite structure orientated
WNW-ESE with an entrance in the west end of the south wall. The internal
measurements of the chapel are 4.2m long by 2.6m wide at the east end
narrowing to 1.8m wide at the west end. The walls survive up to a height of
1.1m; the west wall is the best preserved, all the others having
irregularities in their fabric and layout which represent a degree of
rebuilding. Thick pieces of slate found to the south of the chapel when
repairing the path suggest that at one time the building had a slate roof. On
one side of the entrance is a moulded arched stone, one of two fragments which
formed part of a doorway. There are two modern slate memorial slabs against
the external face of the west wall of the chapel.
The holy well, located 3m south of the chapel, survives as a roughly corbelled
rectangular granite chamber over a rectangular well basin, the basin set
approximatety 2m deep in the ground. The chamber forms a roughly domed cover
over the basin giving the well a cave-like appearance enhanced by the patches
of phosphorescent green moss on the walls. The basin measures 0.95m long by
0.55m wide and is orientated NNW to SSE. Water seeps into the basin from the
back wall, while access to the well basin is from the SSE via a flight of
seven irregular granite steps, 1.8m long and 0.6m wide, at the base of which
is a small level area 0.7m by 0.5m. The walls of the chamber are roughly
coursed and unmortared and the roof is formed of four granite lintels. Modern
disturbance has been caused to the well with the insertion of a clay pipe set
in brick in the SSE wall below the water level, which probably feeds water
from the well to two water tanks 60m to the east of the site. Immediately to
the west of the well is a substantial hollow, 2m by 1.75m and at least 0.7m
deep. The relationship of this hollow to the well is uncertain, but it may
indicate that the stone well chamber was inserted into a larger hollow or
spring head, and that the hollow was left accessible to protect or control the
water supply. At the head of the steps to the basin is a large rectangular
moulded fragment of a doorway which has been reused as a footbridge over an
overflow channel from the well. This overflow channel measures 1.2m wide and
0.27m deep. Approximately 8m to the east the overflow channel is bridged by a
tumble of boulders and enlarged to form a small pond with rockery behind.
A modern granite cross measuring 1.7m high and is set on a two stepped granite
base is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is
included. The top step of the base is octagonal, the bottom one circular with
an inscription in lead letters commemorating its erection. This cross was
erected in 1910 and is a copy of a medieval cross in Illogan churchyard.
Both the chapel and well were virtually unrecorded until the 19th century. In
1425 the vicar had license for two chapels in Sancreed parish, of which this
was probably one. The two carved stones, which form part of a doorway, suggest
that the chapel was either built or rebuilt in the late 15th or early 16th
century. The well today is a focus for `pagans' and people interested in
`earth mysteries'; votive offerings such as flowers or pebbles are left in the
well chamber and rags or clouties are left hanging on a nearby tree. The
chapel and well are Grade II Listed Buildings.
The iron railings to the south east of the well, the slate memorial and the
early 20th century cross are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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
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

The chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs survive reasonably well, despite some
restoration and landscaping of the site in the late 19th century. The two
fragments of carved stone doorway suggest that the chapel was built or rebuilt
in the late 15th or early 16th century, at which period the well seems to have
been well known in Cornwall. Despite little being recorded about the chapel
and well and any traditions lost, it has become a popular site of pilgrimage
today among `pagans' and those interested in `earth mysteries'.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Preston-Jones, A, Holy Well on Chapel Downs Sancreed, (1998)
Preston-Jones, A, Holy Well on Chapel Downs Sancreed, (1998)
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 32/42; Pathfinder Series 1368
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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