Saturday, 14 March 2015

Ways to kneel and kiss the ground: The Ancient Spring of St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire

St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire
I have visited quite a few Holy Wells and springs in my time, 
many being overgrown, untended and feeling quite forlorn and forgotten. 
It was quite a surprise to happen upon St Helen's Well, and find that it is obviously well used, and by a diverse range of people, of varying faiths.

St Helen's Well is located just off a disused railway track which has been reborn as a walkway and is now part of The Wolds Way and Hudson Way, leading between Goodmanham and Market Weighton.

It is one of four named natural springs in the area, and most of the articles that I've read state that it has been held sacred from at least Roman times, probably because of a nearby Roman road, and the dedication to St Helen. It is more probable that the spring has been held as a sacred place for far longer than that. There was a major pagan 'temple' in nearby Goodmanham, written about in Bede's History of the English Church and People.

Sign at St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire

The 'well' is dedicated to St Helen - full name: Saint Helen Flavia Luila Helena, aka Saint Eleanor, Saint Helena, Helen Augusta and Helena of Constantinople (AD 248-329.) She was the first wife of Constantius Chlorus.

She was also the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great who was declared Emperor in Eboracum (York) in 306 AD. He converted to Christianity in 312.

St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire
The spring emerges into a triangular stone 'bath.'

The natural water of the spring flows out of the northern hillside into a triangular stone 'bath.' I couldn't find any details on when this 'bath' might date from, or its original function. "It may have been used for healing purposes in centuries past," says the sign, "and, because of its proximity to the old railway line, a piped supply from the well was more recently used to refill steam engines."

The spring is fed by groundwater within the chalk, which cannot drain downwards, because the chalk sits on a bed of clay.

St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire
A shaped 'seat' cut from a tree trunk, just next to the spring.

The 'well' and surrounding area was lovingly restored by the Girl Guides of nearby Market Weighton, for which they won a price in 1985, and they won a 'Keep Britain Tidy' award the next year.

More recently, it has been regenerated by a group of local volunteers. 'The Friends of St Helen's Well,' creating a new pathway, and clearing some trees. It is possible to park at the side of the nearby road and take the path down to the spring, rather than having to walk from either Goodmanham or Market Weighton.
St Helen's Well also now has a  Facebook page.

St Helen's Well, Goodmanham, East Yorkshire

At the base of the hillside and next to the pathway, the trees are decorated with ribbons, Christian crosses, prayers and requests for help and healing, and, when we visited, a chalked message to Odin adorned one of the stones. These offerings are in a tradition that almost certainly goes back into the mists of time. I found this extremely touching and moving, these feelings only slightly tempered by the quantity of non-biodegradable offerings, and I did send out a little wish that maybe in future, those who leave a wee offering, would think a little more deeply about its possible future impact.

I also found myself wishing that many of the other little ancient Holy Wells and springs that I have visited would somehow gain their own band of restorers, guardians and friends, as I love the idea of continuity of place, and the resurrection of some of the old, simple ways of nature as an inclusive sacred space where all are welcome to come and experience their own sense of spirituality and faith, whatever their creed, culture or beliefs.

"There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." - Rumi

There is also a well-sited bench, which is an excellent place to sit and just soak up the touching and peaceful aura of the place.

Well worth a visit.

Thanks for reading!


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'Historic Goodmanham: an Ancient Pagan Temple and a Beautiful Bench....'

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