Well Hopper

Exploring the ancient holy wells and healing wells of North Wales


4 Comments

Ffynnon Cwm Ewyn (Iewyn). Llangynog

sign croppedIt is possible that I may have strayed a little beyond the bounds of my geographical remit here, but i have long wanted to visit Pennant Melangell, and the nearby well could not be easily ignored.

The church dedicated to St Melangell is widely renowned as a place of pilgrimage, containing as it does the shrine which once held the relics of the saint who set up her community here in the 7th century. At the heart of the Melangell story is the famous account of how she rescued a hare which was being hunted by Prince Brochwel, how impressed he was by her intervention and how he granted her the lands in the valley to establish her community. Supposedly hares remained incredibly tame in the area thereafter.

Melangell’s church is built on the site of previous occupation going back to at least the Bronze Age, and is surrounded by yew trees many of which are estimated to be 2000 or more years old, giving evidence of the antiquity and continual use of the site. This was originally the site of Melangell’s shrine and her relics were a huge draw for pilgrims up to the period of the reformation when the shrine was destroyed. Melangell’s church became known as a sanctuary where the oppressed could seek refuge.

IMG_3762

Melangell is still considered patron saint of hares and small animals, the expression Duw a Melangell a’th gadwo (God and Melangell keepeth thee) is offered to hunted animals.

The parish belonging to the church was transferred to Llangynog in the nineteenth century, and gradually the church fell into disrepair. It has been substantially restored in recent years, including the complete reimaginging and rebuilding of an apse at the eastern end, which replaced an existing rectangular 18th century cell. The shrine, which was reassembled, from pieces located where they had been recycled into walls and the lych-gate has been replaced in the church., Still its setting and the history and legend of Melangell continue to draw pilgrims and the pile of prayer cards laid under the unique shrine of Melangell demonstrate continuing faith in her power to grant cures. The identification of a couple of cock-pits in the church grounds suggest that visitors intentions have not always been so noble.

So in this case it appears that it is the shrine rather than the well that people seek out. Perhaps this is why, despite its proximity that the well has never apparently attracted a dedication to Melangell or any other saint. Even without such a dedication however, the powers of the well were long recognised. Elias Owen in 1894 recorded that

 “A holy well, situated in the hills about a mile to the north of the church is called Ffynnon Iewyn”   He notes that the well is still in existence but as the name does not indicate any saint he infers that the well was reverenced long before Christianity [1]

IMG_3813

The well consists of a spring emerging from the hillside, which forms a stream flowing some five yards or so southwards into a stone lined basin with steps down on the northern side providing access to the water. Water flows out of the basin to the south as a small stream. The Royal Commission, who reference the well under the name Ffynnon Cwm Ewyn after nearby Craig Cwn Ewyn, visited in 1910. Their report suggests that the well basin was then a relatively recent addition, which suggests that the well was still used in the late nineteenth century. RCHAMW also recorded that healing properties were attached to the well but added no details.

IMG_3790

IMG_3782

It is Francis Jones {2} who notes that it was said to offer cures for rheumatism, scrofula and skin diseases.

IMG_3786

The well is found by following the footpath out of the church car park, away from the church. The track gently rises towards a gate into a small cluster of buildings. Within this cluster take the track that rises steeply to the north into woodland. A little after you emerge from the woods onto the moorland the well is seen on the right hand side.

IMG_3777

The well is clearly still visited. There was evidence that recently the weeds growing in the basin had been cleared out and stacked in a heap to one side. More interesting perhaps were the remains of two small pieces of rag tied to sticks close to the spring itself. The custom of leaving pieces of rag as an offering at particular wells was widespread in Britain and Ireland, although Jones suggests it was less common in Wales. Is it possible that this was evidence of traditional customs spreading to new sites with new generations of pilgrims?

 [1] Archaeologia Cambrensis 1894
[2] Holy Wells of Wales, 1954, see references page