St Mary’s Well at Cefn Meiriadog is amongst my favourite sites to visit. A Holy Well, in medieval times a major site of pilgrimage, it was destoyed during the Reformation. At the time Henry VIII ordered the closure of the monasteries wells such as St Mary’s across Wales were broken up to attempt to end the cult of Holy and Healing Wells that were prevalent across Wales and much of the UK at the time.

The style of the wellhas been compared by many to that  of St Winefride’s Well at Holywell some twenty miles further north leading many to suppose they were built at the same time and possibly under the same sponsorship.  This is now consiidered not to be the case, the well here at Cefn being largely a Victorian reconstruction.

In the quiet backwaters of Wales, away from the political strife in London, people tried to cling to their beliefs. Sickness wasn’t reformed and wells continued to offer sought for cures against a number of illnesses.

The well chapel at Cefn Meiriadog was ruined during the reign of Henry VIII, but remained a consecrated site for Catholics in the area, and for over 100 years after, until the mid 17th century, clandestine marriages were celebrated here, a local Welsh Gretna Green.

The site was maintained and renovated during the 18th and 19th centuries by local landowners as a part of the landscape gardening craze which prized romantic and isolated ruins.

Poet Felicia Hemans (1793-1835),  mainly known now for her poem Casabianca, (The boy stood on the burning deck…) spent her youth living close to the new City of St Asaph and would have visited the well around this time. She wrote her ode Our Lady’s Well  in its honour.

FOUNT of the woods! thou art hid no more
From heaven’s clear eye, as in time of yore.
For the roof hath sunk from thy mossy walls,
And the sun’s free glance on thy slumber falls;
And the dim tree shadows across thee pass,
As the boughs are swayed o’er thy silvery glass;
And the reddening leaves to thy breast are blown,
When the autumn wind hath a stormy tone;
And thy bubbles rise to the flashing rain,—
Bright fount! thou art nature’s own again!

Fount of the vale! thou art sought no more
By the pilgrim’s foot, as in time of yore,
When he came from afar, his beads to tell,
And to chant his hymn at Our Lady’s Well.
There is heard no Ave through thy bowers,
Thou art gleaming lone midst thy water flowers!
But the herd may drink from thy gushing wave,
And there may the reaper his forehead lave,
And the woodman seeks thee not in vain,—
Bright fount! thou art nature’s own again!

Fount of the virgin’s ruined shrine!
A voice that speaks of the past is thine!
It mingles the tone of a thoughtful sigh
With the notes that ring through the laughing sky;
Midst the mirthful song of the summer bird,
And the sound of the breeze, it will yet be heard!—
Why is it that thus we may gaze on thee,
To the brilliant sunshine sparkling free?
’T is that all on earth is of Time’s domain,—
He hath made thee nature’s own again!

Fount of the chapel with ages gray!
Thou art springing freshly amidst decay;
Thy rites are closed and thy cross lies low,
And the changeful hours breathe o’er thee now.
Yet if at thine altar one holy thought
In man’s deep spirit of old hath wrought;
If peace to the mourner hath here been given,
Or prayer from a chastened heart to Heaven,—
Be the spot still hallowed while Time shall reign,
Who hath made thee nature’s own again!

all photos taken for The Gothic Heroine, March 2012
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