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St Mary's holy well
St Mary's well
The remains of a chapel built around the well provide an atmospheric backdrop

By Alys Lewis
In search of north east Wales' holy wells, Alys finds St Mary's in a remote and tranquil location

The ruins of a pilgrimage chapel show that once St Mary's well in the Elwy Valley was seen as an important place of worship.

Today, St Mary's well is situated on private farmland and can only be reached on foot, by crossing fields and a small stream, once permission has been sought.

Its isolated location means that it's in a very peaceful spot. While overgrown, the remains of the well and the chapel which was built by it can still be seen.

They have known to have been visited by pilgrims for centuries though it's unclear when exactly the shrine would have been created.

Rev Colin Mansley
The Deanery organises a pilgrimage every year and last July the pilgrimage came to the well and people were splashed with its water to remind them of their baptism.
Rev Colin Mansley

The earliest part of the chapel building is thought to date from the 13th Century. In the 15th Century a chancel was added and the well basin was rebuilt.

The basin is in the form of a star, similar to the more famous well at Holywell which Lady Margaret Beaufort had built in the same century.

This has led to speculation that she was also involved in the construction of St Mary's Well as the expansion of the chapel would have required substantial funds.

Following the Reformation the well began to fall into disrepair though there are records dating from the 1640s which make references to clandestine marriages being conducted there.

By the 18th Century the chapel was in ruins and the pilgrimages had ended, however in recent years churches have once again started to make pilgrimages to the site.

The Reverend Colin Mansley, Vicar of the parish of Cefn Meiriadog, recalls taking part in a pilgrimage to the well organised by the Deanery in July 2008.

The well was visited by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins when he spent three years at the nearby St Beuno's Jesuit college in Tremeirchion in the 1870s.

The poet Felicia Hemans, best known for the poem which begins 'The boy stood on the burning deck', lived in St Asaph during her youth and was said to be very fond of the well, even writing a poem about it.

Tom Green, Canterbury: "There is another holy Well near Corwen known as Ffynon Sulien. As a child growing up in the area I was told that Sulien (a saint) led a hermit lifestyle. It is located as follows (if my memory serves me correctly), on leaving Corwen on the A5 towards Tyn y Cefn traffic lights you will cross Corwen bridge. Immediately on crossing there is a track on the right hand side (often used by anglers). Follow this track for about a quarter of a mile and there is a sharp left hand bend as the track leads to the Ruthin Road. At this bend you will see an old cottage on the right that was derelict when I last saw it (30 years ago) in the grounds of this cottage there is a well lined with local stone slabs. It is difficult to see at first but with close examination of the ground it can be found quite easily. As the house may well be occupied by now it may be necessary to gain permission from the householder or from Rhug estate."

William Schleising, Penycae, Wrexham: "Another Mary's well, Ffynnon Mair. About half way down the lane in Drefechan, Penycae, between Drefechan Farm and the ruins of Plas Du (Plas Ty). The well used to be accessible to all from the lane, it was our only source of water when we lived in Plas Du in the late 1940s. This is no longer the case as it is now fenced off from both the lane and the general public. Access is now only possible from the adjacent field, Cae Ffynnon Mair. Holy or not, it was our spring of life."

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