Monday, 17 March 2014

Reviving Cumbria's holy wells

St Catherine's Holy Well, Eskdale - one of Cumbria's holy wells in danger of being lost through neglect
HAVING - with a very few other stalwarts - waxed lyrical about the beauty of Britain's holy wells for the last 30 years, I am delighted to report that a project has been launched in Cumbria to celebrate and renovate these endangered landmarks. The good news came from Father John Musther an Orthodox priest who lives in Keswick. His plan is to select a number of Cumbrian holy wells for cleaning and restoration. Then, from September 8 to 17 2014, to use volunteers from around the world along with local volunteers and expertise to restore and celebrate those wells (and bless them). It's an astonishing project but is already well advanced. I visited Fr John and his wife Jenny to find a chart with many holy wells already marked out. He has visited many of them and started speaking to the parish councils and land owners about what he wants to do. The project is led by Grampus Heritage based at Threapland in Cumbria and involves partners in Germany, Iceland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey. There is support and funding from the EU.

The first question has to be why Orthodoxy has an interest in holy wells (the established church has had something of a love hate relationship with holy wells over the centuries!). It's probably a question for Fr John to answer himself but to quote a draft of a booklet he is producing alongside the project:

"If, as we travel around Cumbria, we become aware of the early saints who lived here, of the churches they founded, of the monasteries they began, of the crosses they erected and the innumerable holy wells they used the landscape of Cumbria takes on a spiritual aspect as good, say, as the best of Wales, Cornwall and Ireland."

You won't find any arguments from me on that score! I am sure many of my holy well friends will want to help in one way or another. For now, drop me an email to to express your interest (and say how - historical research, admin or rolling your shirt sleeves up to clean up those wells!). I'll update my holy well map nearer the time with more specific  information on the wells most suited for restoration but feel free to suggest any you know about. Fr John and I are aware there are more wells than marked on this Google map but don't assume we know about your one!

This is a wonderful and exciting opportunity. Hopefully it will see many holy wells currently in danger of being lost for good, rescued and restored. I'll post here again when I have more information.