Bride’s Well in Glastonbury

The Victorian revival of Glastonbury as Avalon began here. A generation before Dion Fortune, a group of seekers played out a magical working in the landscape of Glastonbury, concealing and discovering a Holy Grail in the waters of an elusive well associated in legend with the goddess and saint Bride.  The story is told in The Avalonians by Patrick Benham.

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Marker stone for Bride’s Well (moved from its original location). The legend below the celtic knot cross design says: “This stone marks the traditional spot of the Saint Bride’s Well”

The tale begins in 1885 in a small town on the Ligurian coast of Italy. Dr John Goodchild, a medical doctor from London, was spending the winter there when he came across an ancient glass bowl or cup which he believed might be the Holy Grail of Legend. Psychic experiences told him to take the cup to the area known as Bride’s Hill in Glastonbury, where, he was told, it would eventually end up in the care of women, “as women were not bound to keep its secrets in the way that men were.” [1]

Bride’s Hill in the West of Glastonbury is a mound located between Wearyall Hill and the River Brue. It was the site of a chapel about 1000 years ago, built by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey. In the wintertime, when the land near the river flooded, the hill would become an island, a much smaller version of the Tor.

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The view east from Bride’s Hill towards Glastonbury Tor

The mound is currently in the care of Somerset County Council who have installed some signs explaining the site:  “Local tales talk of the chapel being founded after a visit by the Irish saint, Bridget, in 488 AD. We are unsure if this visit took place because the story wasn’t written down until 1135. William of Malmesbury, a monk and historian, recorded that Bridget left a bag, necklace, small bell and weaving tools at Beckery. He said that these objects were displayed at the chapel.”

Of course, Dr Goodchild was well aware that Saint Bridget was an heir to older traditions of Bride. For example, in a book that he published around the time of his visit to Glastonbury, he quotes a tale by the Scottish writer Fiona Macleod which describes Bride as the foster-mother of Christ, in an allegory of Pagan traditions feeding into the new Christian religion.

Goodchild brought the Cup to Glastonbury and with the help of an old map he located Bride’s Hill, but his psychic experience hadn’t told him what he was to do with the Cup. He waited, and then, “early in the morning of the first Monday in September, he was awoken from his sleep by the sound of a voice urging him to get up and take the Cup with him. Before long he was making his way across the fields to the west of the railway station, the voice still offering its calm, firm directions. He arrived at the well, knowing with certainty that he had to conceal the Cup within its murky waters. He achieved this by lodging it in a hollow beneath a stone. The deed done he returned to the town. The destiny of the object was out of his hands.” [2]

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Each year, Goodchild returned to the well, hoping for a sign that the Cup had been found by its rightful keeper. For seven years he found nothing, but then he found that a token (presumably a note of some kind) had been left. The Cup had been discovered by a group who had been led to the well by visions. The group was formed of three ladies, Christine and Janet Allen, Katherine Tudor-Pole, and her brother Wellesley. The discoverers had replaced the cup in the well, but left the token which Goodchild found. He promptly established contact with the discoverers and told them the history of the Cup. Katherine then collected the Cup from the well:

“Bride’s Well itself was more like a rather muddy pond, into which the water from nearby fields used to drain through a sluice. However, it was certainly an ancient spot. An old thorn tree grew next to it on which generations of Glastonbury folk used to hang ribbons and other offerings to St. Bride for the help of the sick and barren. By the time she reached it, Katherine was already wet enough not to be too bothered about having to wade into the mire at the well, picking around with her hands and feet until she found the bowl-shaped object.”[3]

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Thorn tree at the entrance to Bride’s mound hung with ribbons.

Katherine took the bowl back to her home in Bristol, and the three ladies and Wellesley set up an oratory in an upper room. They placed the Cup on an altar, and began to conduct services, based on church practices, but emphasising the feminine mode represented by the cup.

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Nowadays the location of the well is unknown and the marker stone has been moved next to the River Brue. When I first visited about ten years ago, it was in the middle of a rainstorm and there was plenty of water around the base of Bride’s Hill so that it was relatively easy to find a likely spot for the well. On a more recent visit, it was difficult to see any fresh water springing up.

Of course, Bride’s Well is just a part of the Glastonbury sacred landscape: on the other side, by the Tor, there are two very well-known springs. One is the red spring, now housed within the Chalice Well Trust (which was founded by Wellesley Tudor-Pole, one the discoverers of the Cup). The other, the white spring, is now a candle-lit sanctuary, privately owned, but made public through The White Spring.

The two springs face each other on either side of Well House Lane, the road up to the Tor.

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There are many ways of interpreting the wells and springs of Glastonbury, but one way I like is to think of the red and white springs as a contrasting pair – perhaps male and female, side by side under the Tor.  Then, on the other side of Glastonbury, with the dragon’s back of Wearyall Hill between them, lies the mysterious and elusive Bride’s Well, making the hidden third. Perhaps revealed only to the sincere seeker!

Acknowledgements:

The Friends of Bride’s Mound has been set up to protect and preserve the land around Bride’s Hill. They organise an Imbolc walk and gathering at the mound each year, and they are hoping to get permission for an archaeological study of the mound to try and locate the original position of Bride’s Well.

Most of the material in this article (including most of the quotes) are from a wonderful book called The Avalonians by Patrick Benham, published by Gothic Image Publications in 2006. The book covers this episode in great detail, and goes on to talk about later generations of Avalonians, such as Frederick Bligh Bond and Dion fortune.

Notes:

[1] The Avalonians,  p. 19

[2] The Avalonians, p. 22.

[3] The Avalonians, p. 50.

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About singinghead

druid, mathematician, blogger, gardener...
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5 Responses to Bride’s Well in Glastonbury

  1. lynww says:

    Thanks for reminding me about this great story!

  2. I visit Glastonbury every month or so. I love the Chalice Well Garden. I am tho’ always saddened at the status of The White Spring. I understand it is privately owned. I think the white spring is the sad twin to the red spring.The red spring has a beautiful garden to spring in to.The white spring has an ugly building. I would love to see a garden just like the red spring has to spring in to. It could be so beautiful.The water comes down the hill thru’ rocks…it could be a garden.Knock down the hideous building and let her be free.I really dont understand why this asset to Glastonbury has been so neglected. I read that when it ran freely the lane was quite a tourist attraction due to the calcium deposits on the ferns etc….it looked like fairyland.

  3. Dean Wiegert says:

    I enjoyed your post about Bride’s well. I live in the USA but visited Glastonbury (for the second time) in 2011 at which time I was able to visit Bride’s Mound. There wasn’t much to point out any features or history there, but I did see the marker for the well and I tried to imagine the place as it may have been in the past. It was a good experience. I see there is now archaeological work being done on the chapel, how exciting. I read The Avalonians before I got there so I was familiar with the story of the stone bowl and all the other wonderful information in the book. I really enjoyed it and would be interested if you have any suggestions for other books of similar subject matter. Thanks.

    • singinghead says:

      Glad you liked it! The archaological dig is very exciting – I’m watching the website with great interest! On other books, I also enjoyed ‘The Story of Dion Fortune’ ‘as told to’ Charles Fielding and Carr Collins. The book is troubled by clumsy editing, but is still worth a go (I think!). Best wishes, Rod

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