THE WELL AT ALTAR-NUN.
CURE OF INSANITY.
MONGST the numerous holy wells which exist in Cornwall, that of Alternosi, or Altar-Nun, is the only one, as far as I can learn, which possessed the virtue of curing the insane.
We are told that Saint Nunne or Nuanita was the daughter of an Earl of Cornwall, and the mother of St David; that the holy well, which is situated about a mile from the cathedral of St David, was dedicated to her; and that she bestowed on the waters of the Cornish well those remarkable powers, which were not given to the Welsh one, from her fondness for the county of her birth.
Carew, in his "Survey of Cornwall," thus describes the practice :--
"The water running from St Nun's well fell into a square and enclosed walled plot, which might be filled at what depth they listed. Upon this wall was the frantic person put to stand, his back towards the pool, and from thence, with a sudden blow in the breast, tumbled headlong into the pond; where a strong fellow, provided for the nonce, took him, and tossed him up and down, amongst and athwart the water, till the patient, by foregoing his' strength, had somewhat forgot his fury. Then was he conveyed to the church, and certain masses said over him; upon which handling, if his right wits returned, St Nun had the thanks; but if there appeared small amendment, he was bowssened again and again, while there remained in him any hope of life or recovery."
The 2d of March is dedicated to St Nun, and the influence of the water is greatly exalted on that day.
Although St Nun's well has been long famous, and the celebrity of its waters extended far, yet there was a belief prevailing amidst the uneducated, that the sudden shock produced by suddenly plunging an insane person into water was most effective in producing a return to reason.
On one occasion, a woman of weak mind, who was suffering under the influence of a religious monomania, consulted me on the benefit she might hope to receive from electricity. The burden of her ever-melancholy tale was, that "she had lost her God; "and she told me, with a strange mixture of incoherence and reason, that her conviction was, that a sudden shock would cure her. She had herself proposed to her husband and friends that they should take her to a certain rock on St Michael's Mount, stand her on it, with her back to the sea, when "the waters were the strongest, at the flowing of the tide;" and after having prayed with her, give her the necessary blow on the chest, and thus plunge her into the waters below. I know not that the experiment was ever made in the case of this poor woman, but I have heard of several instances where this sudden plunge had been tried as a cure for insanity.
Mr T. Q. Couch thus describes the present condition of this well in a paper on "Well-Worship: " [a]
"On the western side of the beautiful valley through which flows the Trelawney River, and near Hobb's Park, in the parish of Pelynt, Cornwall, is St Nun's, or St Ninnie's Well. Its position was, until lately, to be discovered by the oak-tree matted with ivy, and the thicket of willow and bramble which grew upon its roof. The front of the well is of a pointed form, and has a rude entrance about four feet high, and spanned above by a single flat stone, which leads into a grotto with arched roof. The walls on the interior are draped with luxuriant fronds of spleenwort, hart's-tongue, and a rich undercovering of liverwort. At the further end of the floor is a round granite basin, with a deeply moulded brim, and ornamented on' its circumference with a series of rings, each enclosing a cross or a ball. The water weeps into it from an opening at the back, and escapes again by a hole in the bottom. This interesting piece of antiquity has been protected by a tradition which we could wish to attach to some of our cromlechs and circles in danger of spoliation."
According to the narrative given by Mr Bond in his "History of Looe," the sacred
protection given must have been limited in time, as the following story will prove :--
Probably so called from a consecrated well on the right hand .side of the road. The titular saint of this well is supposed to have been St Cuby, now corrupted into Keby's Well. The spring flows Into a circular basin or reservoir of granite, or of some stone like it, two feet four inches at its extreme diameter at top, and about two feet high. It appears to have been neatly carved and ornamented in its lower part with the figure of a griffin, and round the edge with dolphins, now much defaced. The water was formerly carried off by a drain or hole at the bottom, like those usually seen in fonts and piscinas. This basin (which I take to be an old font) was formerly much respected by the neighbours, who conceived some great misfortune would befall the person who should attempt to remove it from where it stood, and that it required immense power to remove it. A daring fellow, however (says a story), once went with a team of oxen for the express purpose of removing it. On his arrival at the spot, one of the oxen fell down dead, which so alarmed the fellow that he desisted from the attempt he was about to make. There are several loose stones scattered round this basin or reservoir, perhaps the remains of some building which formerly enclosed it--a small chapel likely. The last time I saw this reservoir, it had been taken many feet from where it used to stand, and a piece of the brim of it had been recently struck off ?'
[a] Notes and Queries.