Due either to the virtues of its saints or the nature of its geology, Denbighshire boasts many holy wells. Six of the most accessible are included in this trail, but there are many more to be sought out. These allegedly healing water-sources may well be the oldest of the area’s places of worship.
Certainly there was a thriving cult of wells, pools and lakes among he pagan Celts, if not long before: offerings were made to them, and in some places they were also associated with the Celtic cult of the prophetic severed head (see Tremeirchion, Ffynnon Beuno Site 40).
By the Middle Ages, however, these wells had been ‘christened’ and dedicated to local saints – though there is also a strong likelihood that some were Christian from the outset, natural springs sanctified by their nearness to the hermit’s cell or early church. Some of the rituals associated with them – as at Llandegla (Site 25) – nevertheless point to a comfortable blend of old and new beliefs.
Holy wells (like St. Dyfnog’s at Llanrhaeadr (Site 30) reached a zenith of popularity just before the Protestant Reformation. Thereafter their use was officially condemned as superstitious – though many Denbighshire people apparently took little notice. For poorer people, indeed, they must always have been the only available remedy for disease or disability, and by more fashionable bathers, becoming part of the contemporary craze for ‘medicinal spas’.
The, rejected by ‘science’, their popularity ebbed again, and many were lost, forgotten, drained or filed in – remote Ffynnon Sarah (Site 7), recently restored, being a notable exception. Now, fortunately, interest in them is again reviving: even if they do not always cure ‘warts, scabs and the itch’ – remember to offer a prayer, a pin or a coin, according to inclination – these venerable holy places are worth seeking out.
‘Ivy berry’ trail, Llanelidan