Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales

Ffynnon Beris, Nant Peris

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St Peris’s Well
Nant Peris lies in the Llanberis Pass on the slopes of Snowdon. This is the original settlement of St Peris, before the lure of slate mining drew the population down the hill to the village of Llanberis on the shore of Llyn Padarn.

St Peris remains an enigma. Legend has it that he was a Cardinal in Rome, but his name is as little known there as it is in Wales. Baring-Gould and Fisher, struggling to find a genealogy for him suggest that he may have been one of the sons of Hedig ab Glannog who, having lost their lands by the Lavan Sands to flood took up sainthood as an alternative career, first at Bangor on Dee and later at Bardsey Island. This would make him a brother of Celynin whose church and well are found further east at Llangelynin. Peris’s name is remembered only in this area, where the church at Nant Peris and another at Llangian is named after him.

Nant Peris. Photo Wellhopper

His well is a couple of hundred yards to the north east of the church, lying at the base of a small rocky outcrop in the garden of Tynyffynnon, the house that was the traditional home of the well guardian.

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It remains well kept, the present construction dating probably from the seventeenth century. A small stone lined basin, about four feet square, with stone benches all around it, and a dry stone wall surrounding, built up to ground level behind the well. On the back wall three niches are formed within the stone work to hold offerings.

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Water flows out under the wall towards the south of the well, forming a small stream across the garden, large stones are tumbled over the point where the water flows out, possibly evidence of former building, although it is said that the well itself was never roofed.

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The well was traditionally resorted to for healing and was said to be effective for rickety children and scrofulous and rheumatic people who drank the water or bathed in the well. Two fish were kept in the well. If they emerged during bathing then the cure would be successful, if they remained hidden in the stone work then the visit would be in vain. Needless to say, those seeking a cure learned to try to tempt the fish out with pieces of bread sprinkled on the water before bathing.

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The well was clearly popular and widely resorted to before the mid eighteenth century. Offerings from visitors were placed in a box inside the church, and at the end of each year the amount collected was sufficient to pay the Parish Clerk’s salary. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century its use for healing had significantly declined although the traditions of the well were remembered in a more adulterated fashion. In 1778 Pennant wrote on his visit to Nant Peris

“Here is to be seen the well of the saint, inclosed with a wall. The Sybil of the place attends, and divines your fortune by the appearance or non-appearance of a little fish, which lurks in some of its holes” [1]

In 1851 Catherall wrote

“A poor woman who lives in a cottage near the spring has a few pence given to her by strangers for showing one or two large trout which she feeds in the well.” [2]

A terrier of 1814 also notes the decline

There is also an alms box in the church, the key of which is kept by the wardens and into which the 6d and 4d pieces were formerly put very frequently by persons who either bathed their children or came themselves for the purpose in St Peris’s Well. These small offerings to the Saint amounted at the end of the year to a considerable sum, but at present they are very trifling.” [3]

The tradition of the fish was, however, maintained into the twentieth century. The practice was that two fish should be maintained in the well, a tradition said to date back to the time of Peris himself. When one fish died, the remaining fish lived alone in the well until it in turn died, whereupon two new fish were introduced.

Baring Gould and Fisher state that the fish might be expected to live for up to 50 years and that two new fish were added to the well in 1896

“The last of the two fish put into the well about fifty years previously died in August 1896. It had been blind for some time. It measured 17 inches and was buried in the garden adjoining the well.” [4]

The fish were passionately guarded by the villagers, when once a fish was stolen from the well the perpetrator was hounded and forced to return it.

I don’t believe that there are any fish there today. I haven’t seen any reference made to them and certainly, perhaps unluckily, none were seen during our visit.

We were unable to visit the church, it was locked and there was no information on where to find a key. The only signs of life being the sheep retained to keep the church yard neat and tidy.

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St Peris’s Day is celebrated on December 11th.

We would like to thank the present occupant of Tynyfynnon, no longer a Sybil collecting pieces of silver, who gave us permission to visit the well.

[1] Thomas Pennant (1778) Tours in Wales
[2] Catherall (1851) Wanderings in North Wales
[3] quoted in Baring Gould and Fisher(1908) Lives of the British Saints
[4] Baring Gould and Fisher(1908) Lives of the British Saints

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4 thoughts on “Ffynnon Beris, Nant Peris

  1. Thank you for this article. My family are from Nant Peris and as a child, my Great Aunt looked after the well. There were difinitely fish in up up to the early 70’s and people still came to visit it. In the mid 70’s the house was sold and became the home of a number of climbers who didn’t particularly want visitors pestering them to see the well, so they discouraged visitors and were actually rather rude to one or two, if I recall correctly.
    Not sure who lives there today, but hope they keep an eye on it for posterity.

    • Hi thanks for commenting.
      I hadn’t realised that the fish had continued until so recently, that is interesting

      I know there is a very fine line between allowing access to traditional sites that are on your land and wanting privacy and avoiding being pestered. For anyone there will be times when you really don’t want people knocking on your door or trampling over your land, and nobody wants or deserves a steady stream flocking through their garden. But, in buying a property with a well like this, or any other traditionally visited site – I think you have to accept that at some times access will be sought, and unless it is particularly inconvenient it should be granted. It surely goes with the property

  2. Pingback: Celtic Missional Advent Day 12: God will give you a partner | Phil Wyman

  3. Pingback: Celtic Missional Advent December 11th: God will give you a partner | Phil Wyman

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