Madron Well, Wishing Tree, and Baptistry
Madron, Cornwall, England
This is one of Cornwall’s most actively sacred sites and blessing wells. It is throughout Cornish history known as a Cornish sacred site that was dedicated to Madron or Mabon, the Earth Goddess, as a site for the granting of wishes, answering of prayers, and its healing waters. To this day, people flock from all over the world to make requests or petitions by offerings of pins or coins to the well or by tying ‘clouties’ (or pieces of cloth) to the nearby bushes to appease the water spirits within the well to grant blessings. The well has a long history of healing properties. Up until the 18th century it was the only source of fresh water for Madron and Penzance. A stone baptistry was built near the well dating to the 6th century that was utilized for baptisms and blessings making use of the sacred waters that flow in this area. The baptistry is now just stone ruins measuring 7 x 5 meters with no roof (no evidence there was ever a roof). The blocks are made of granite. Spring water flows through the granite blocks into a basin located within the southwest corner of the ruins. A low altar stone, believed to be Pagan, can be found along the eastern wall with stone seats lining the walls. During my visit in June of 2010, the altar was in use as a memorial for a girl named Cherry who loved this site. I can only assume she recently passed away. The waters flowing from this Spring, feeding both the baptistry and the Pagan well is buried in lore about it hosting healing waters. The true ‘Pagan’ well is believed to be buried further into the marsh (approx. a half a mile from the baptistry) and not at the actual spot where people traditionally have been tying the clouties.
There is little evidence as to the existence of a actual Saint Madron and is believed that it was just a means by Christianity to take over a very Pagan sacred site to claim as their own. Author Misses Quiller-Couch stated that “No clue can be found as to whom St Madron was, or whence he came; beyond the fact that he lived in the hermitage which bears his name, nothing is known of him; there is even a diversity of opinion as to the sex of the saint, some writers speaking of him as a woman.”
It is told that local Pagan groups have located the original well and made the true location more accessible. The well is outlined by a stone surround and is located near the green mound known as “St Madderns” bed where pilgrims would sleep upon as part of the healing cure. Clouties or pieces of cloth are often cut from a person’s clothes, like I did with the shirt I wore to the site, and hung / tied to a thorn on the hawthorne tree for luck. Also tearing a piece of cloth off of the body where the body is ill will result in a cure for that which is ailing the requestor. East Cornish lore also has a custom of bathing in the sea on the three first sunday mornings in May – after which the children were brought to this site before sunrise to be dipped in the running water so that they may be cured of rickets, skin diseases, colic, shingles, aches, pains, and other child disorders. After being stripped naked, the children are plunged three times into the water, parents facing the sun, and passed around the well nine times from east to west. They were then dressed and laid by the side of the well to sleep in the sun – and if the water bubbled when they lied down, it was good sign the prayer/petition was heard. Not a word was spoken of the even for the whole time for fear it could break the spell. The water from the well has magical healing properties if drunk or applied to the body of the ill. The site is also used for love magic. Young girls often would visit the site in May to find their sweethearts by dropping crooked pins or small heavy things into the well in couples, and if the items stayed together the pair would be married. The number of bubbles surfacing from the fall will show the time that will elapse before the match is made. Sometimes two pieces of straw were weaved into a cross and fastened to the center by a pin to be utilized in these divinations. The area is extremely magical and enchanting. Walking in the forests around the Well on a breezy day will result in great tree chatter and omens revealed by dryads. Water naiads are also abundant in the Spring who grant the wishes/petitions. In 1996 there was an incident where unidentified persons who took offense to the Pagan practices of the Spring cut down to branches upon which the clouties were tied. Folklore states that the Bishop of Exeter brought a crippled man named John Trelille here … who was paralyzed from the waist down. Upon bathing in the waters on the first three thursdays in May, each time sleeping on St. Maderne’s bed, was miraculously cured of the paralysis.
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