MADDERN OR MADRON WELL.
"Plunge thy right hand in St Maciron's spring,
If true to its troth be the palm you bring;
But if a false digit thy fingers bear,
Lay them at once on the burning share."
OF the holy well at St Maddern, Carne [a] writes thus --
"It has been contended that a virgin was the patroness of this church--that she was buried at Minster--and that many miracles were performed at her grave. A learned commentator, however, is satisfied that it was St Motran, who was one of the large company that came from Ireland with St Buriana, and he was slain at the mouth of the Hayle; the body was begged, and afterwards buried here. Near by was the miraculous Well of St Maddern, over which a chapel was built, so sacred was it held, (This chapel was destroyed by the fanaticism of Major Ceely in the days of Cromwell.) It stood at no great distance on the moor, and the soil around it was black and boggy, mingled with a gray moorstone. . . .
"The votaries bent awfully and tremblingly over its sedgy bank, and gazed on its clear bosom for a few minutes ere they proved the fatal ordeal; then an imploring look was cast towards the figure of St Motran, many a crossing was repeated, and at last the pin or pebble held aloof was dropped into the depth beneath. Often did the rustic beauty fix her eye intently on the bubbles that rose, and broke, and disappeared; for in that moment the lover was lost, or the faithful husband gained. It was only on particular days, however, according to the increase or decrease of the moon, that the hidden virtues of the well were consulted." [b]
Of this well we have the following notice by William Scawen, Esq., Vice-Warden of the Stannaries. The paper from which we extract it was first printed by Davies Gilbert, Esq., F.R.S., as an appendix to his "Parochial History of Cornwall." Its complete title is, "Observations on an Ancient Manuscript, entitled 'Passio Christo," written in the Cornish Language, and now preserved in the Bodleian Library; with an Account of the Language, Manners, and Customs of the People of Cornwall, (from a Manuscript in the Library of Thomas Artle, Esq., 1777)" --
"Of St Mardren's Well (which is a parish west to the Mount), a fresh true story of two persons, both of them lame and decrepit, thus recovered from their infirmity. These two persons, after they had applied themselves to divers physicians and chirurgeons, for cure, and finding no success by them, they resorted to St Mardren's Well, and according to the ancient custom which they had heard of, the same which was once in a year--to wit, on Corpus Christi evening--to lay some small offering on the altar there, and to lie on the ground all night, drink of the water there, and in the morning after to take a good draught more, and to take and carry away some of the water, each of them in a bottle, at their departure. This course these two men followed, and within three weeks they found the effect of it, and, by degrees their strength increasing, were able to move themselves on crutches. The year following they took the same course again, after which they were able to go with the help of a stick; and at length one of them, John Thomas, being a fisherman, was, and is at this day, able to follow his fishing craft. The other, whose name was William Cork, was a soldier under the command of my kinsman, Colonel William Godolphin (as he has often told me), was able to perform his duty, and died in the service of his majesty King Charles. But herewith take also this :--
"One Mr Hutchens, a person well known in those parts, and now lately dead, being parson of Ludgvan, a near neighbouring parish to St Mardren's Well, he observed that many of his parishioners often frequented, this well superstitiously, for which he reproved them privately, and sometimes publicly, in his sermons; but afterwards he, the said Mr Hutchens, meeting with a woman coming from the well with a bottle in her hand, desired her earnestly that he might drink thereof, being then troubled with colical pains, which accordingly he did, and was eased of his infirmity. The latter story is a full confutation of the former; for, if the taking the water accidentally thus prevailed upon the party to his cure, as it is likely it did, then the miracle which was intended to be by the ceremony of lying on the ground and offering is wholly fled, and it leaves the virtue of the water to be the true cause of the cure. And we have here, as in many places of the land, great variety of salutary springs, which have diversity of operations, which by natural reason have been found to be productive of good effects, and not by miracle, as the vain fancies of monks and friars have been exercised in heretofore."
Bishop Hale, of Exeter, in his "Great Mystery of Godliness," says --
"Of which kind was that noe less than miraculous cure, which, at St Maddern's Well, in Cornwall, was wrought upon a poore cripple; whereof, besides the attestation of many hundreds of the neighbours, I tooke a strict and impartial examination in my last triennial visitation there. This man, for sixteen years, was forced to walke upon his hands, by reason of the sinews of his Ieggs were soe contracted that he cold not goe or walke on his feet, who upon monition in a dream to wash in that well, which accordingly he did, was suddainly restored to the use of his limbs; and I sasve him both able to walk and gett his owne maintenance. I found here was neither art nor collusion,--the cure done, the author our invisible God," &c.
In Madron Well--and, I have no doubt, in many others--may be found frequently the pins which have been dropped by maidens desirous of knowing "when they were to be married." I once witnessed the whole ceremony performed by a group of beautiful girls, who had walked on a May morning from Penzance. Two pieces of straw, about an inch long each, were crossed and the pin run through them. This cross was then dropped into the water, and the rising bubbles carefully counted, as they marked the number of years which would pass ere the arrlval of the happy day. This practice also prevailed amongst the visitors to the well at the foot of Monacuddle Grove, near St Austell.
On approaching the Waters, each visitor is expected to throw in a crooked pin; and, if you are lucky, you may possibly see the other pins rising from the bottom to meet the most recent offering. Rags and- votive offerings to the genius of the waters are hung around many of the wells. Mr Couch says :-- "At Maciron Well, near Penzance, I observed the custom of hang-jog rags on the thorns which grew in the enclosure."
Crofton Croker tells us the same custom prevails in Ireland; and Dr O'Connor, in his "Travels in Persia," describes the prevalence of this custom.
Mr Campbell,[c] on this subject, writes :--" Holy healing wells are common all over the Highlands, and people still leave offerings of pins and nails, and bits of rag, though few would confess it. There is a well in Islay where I myself have, after drinking, deposited copper caps amongst a hoard of pins and buttons, and similar gear, placed in chinks in the rocks and trees at the edge of the 'Witches' Well.' There is another well with similar offerings freshly placed beside it, in an island in Loch Maree, in Ross-shire, and many similar wells are to be found in other places in Scotland. For example, I learn from Sutherland that a well in the Black Isle of Cromarty., near Rosehaugh, has miraculous healing powers. A country woman tells me, that abput forty years ago, she remembers it being surrounded by a crowd of people every first Tuesday its June, who bathed and drank of it before sunrise. Each patient tied a string or rag to one of the trees that overhung it before leaving. It was sovereign for headaches. Mr--remembers to have seen a well here, called Mary's Well, hung round with votive rags.'"
Well-worship is mentioned by Martin. The custom, in his day, in the Hebrides, was to walk south round about the well.
Sir William Betham, in his "Gael and Cymbri" (Dublin: W. Curry, Jun., & Co., 1834), says, at page 235 :-- "The Celtae were much addicted to the worship of fountains and rivers as divinities. They had a deity called Divona, or the river-god."
[a] "Tales of the West," by the author of "Letters from the East,"
[b] The tale of "The Legend of Pacorra."
[c] "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," by J. F. Campbell. (See page 234, vol. ii.)