Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If you have a country full of springs, then it is a good idea to make sure that lots of saints – preferably virgin martyrs – die near those springs, so the springs can become Holy Wells, which by definition are pilgrimage destinations that are good for the local economy. Just in the past few days, to make my point, we have Saints Almedha (or Eiluned), Sidwell and Sithney.

Almedha (August 3), a 6th century* Welsh Princess and one of King Brychan’s 24 daughters, wished to be chaste & devout and so she defied her father’s wish to marry her off, and she ran away. You might think that with 23 other daughters he would have relented and allowed just this one off the hook. But no. Brychan found poor Almedha and beheaded her; her head rolled down a hill into a nearby spring that instantly gained Healing Powers. Though some say it was her rejected suitor who did the deed.
And consider Saint Sidwell (August 1) whose stepmother**ordered reapers to remove Sidwell’s head from its body with a scythe. A well sprang up at the site of the heinous crime, and the Healing Waters beckoned paying tourists.
Saint Sithney (August 4) was neither a virgin nor a martyr. No, he was a 6th century* Breton monk. God spoke to Sithney and asked him to be the patron of unmarried girls seeking to find husbands. Sithney demurred; he said that sounded like too much work and he would rather be the patron of mad dogs. God agreed to his request, and ever since, mad dogs have been cured with a drink from Sithney’s holy well.

Later, Sithney’s relics made their way to Cornwall so that mad Cornish dogs can seek solace there.

* The sixth century, as far as I can tell, was the Golden Age of Holy Wells.

** One of those days I would like to address the bizarre and fraught state of step-motherhood (she whose default epithet is wicked), a condition most of us never imagined inhabiting.

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