Last week I visited Llandegla church with my eldest daughter to talk about the heritage of this upland parish in Denbighshire at the church. There are many dimensions to the heritage of the parish, from caves with prehistoric finds to cairns, a Roman road and fabulous motte-and-bailey castle (Tomen y Rhodwydd). This was a drovers’ route too and many historic buildings survive in the core of the settlement. I wish to focus on one dimension of its heritage: St Tegla’s Well and its folkore.
I don’t visit enough holy wells, but I find them intriguing and disconcerting places. Still, we had a few minutes to spare before our meeting in the church…. So we parked in the village car park where there are heritage boards outlining the heritage of the township. We then walked past the nineteenth-century church built on a far older holy site with a striking wooden war memorial installed in the prominent south-east corner of the churchyard. We went down to the River Alyn, over the bridge and left (upstream) on a well-signposted footpath alongside the river. Here you come to a footbridge and over it, just above the river on the eastern bank is St Tegla’s Well.
This well was once famous throughout north Wales until the practices associated with it were suppressed during the nineteenth century. The first thing we spotted actually was the heritage monument: a stone plinth into which an information board has been installed explaining the folklore surrounding the well. Next one turns to the well itself: a trapezoidal with a stone-carved urn on its southern side. At its downslope corners, two trees have grown and upon their branches visitors have tied various votive ribbons.
The heritage signboards gives details of the folklore. So it goes, you should visit the well after sunset, wash your limbs in the well, and make an offering of four pence. Then you were to walk three times around the well, and then around the church three times. On this journey and throughout you must carry a chicken and recite the Lord’s Prayer. The next stage was to enter the church and lie beneath the communion table and spend the night using a Bible as your pillow. You depart leaving the chicken and six pence. It was finally stated that if the chicken died, you would be cured of ‘St Tecla’s Disease’: epilepsy.
There is a further piece of folklore responding to the discovery of long silver pins in the well with coins, namely that maybe people used to stab the chicken to hasten its death. Make of this what you will, the spot is peaceful, quiet, but I wouldn’t really want to wash there. I also feel sorry for the poor chicken…
I haven’t read anything about the heritage of holy wells, so please direct me, dear readers, to relevant discussions. Clearly these are still visited by the occasional tourist and the occasional religious person hoping to acquire a cure.