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Well Wishing where a Saint Stood…

St Chad’s Well, at St Chad’s Church, Lichfield. I’m sure it is
much nicer in summer, when the vine growing over the roof
is green, but at the moment it looks like a haystack on legs.
Today is the Feast of St Chad, so for my Saturday Snapshot I have some photos of his well, and a couple of old photos to show what it used to like in the past. Before moving to this area I’d never heard of Chad, but it’s difficult to live here and not stumble across him somewhere, for he was Bishop of the ancient Saxon kingdom of Mercia. Tamworth, where I live, was the capital of this realm, and St Chad established his Episcopal seat at Lichfield, where I once worked on the local paper, and now volunteer in the Oxfam book shop.  

 I think about him sometimes when I’m on one of my daily walks because, according to Bede in ‘A History of the English Church and People’, he went about on foot rather than on horseback,  and was  reluctant to change this ‘pious exercise’, which he loved. His archbishop considered it more fitting that Chad should ride, and on one occasion insisted on helping him on to a horse, but I like to imagine the saint flouting the order when his superior was out of the way, and continuing to stride about the countryside. 
St Chad’s Well, drawn by William Stukeley in 1736. 
He became Bishop of Mercia in 669 and immediately made Lichfield the centre of his see (rather than Repton, in Derbyshire). He built a house near the church and close by a spring fed a pool where, according to 16th century antiquarian John Leland, ‘St Chad was wont naked to stand in the water and pray’.

There is still a well in the churchyard at St Chad’s, presumably fed by the spring, but its location and form seem to have changed over the years. In 1833, local physician James Rawson described it as having ‘degenerated into a most undignified puddle, more than 6 feet deep’ and said it was choked with ‘mud and filth’. Thanks to him, the water supply was improved, and a protective octagonal building erected, which must have been far more attractive than the lacklustre garden feature erected at the end of 1940s, when the well seems to have been moved. There’s a small square of water set into drab paving slabs, covered by an unimaginative tiled roof, which perches on top of four wooden supports.
The 19th century building which covered
the well.
 St Chad died on March 2, 672 . Bede, writing some 60 years later, tells us that the burial place was covered in a wooden tomb in form of little house, with a small opening, so people could put a hand through to take some of the dust. “They mix this in water and give it to sick men or beasts to drink, by which means their ailment is quickly relieved and they are restored to the longed for joys of health,” he adds – but doesn’t say whether they used water from the well to create this macabre medicine.
Bede also describes how a wandering ‘madman’ spent a night in the church where the body was housed, and was miraculously found to be ‘in his right mind’ the following morning!
The well: people thrown coins into the water, and make a wish,
but my wish would be for it to look more like a well!
 During the Medieval period, pilgrims flocked to Lichfield Cathedral to see Chad’s shrine, but his relics were moved during the Reformation, although you can still see the Chapel of St Chad’s Head, where the Saint’s head was once displayed to the faithful, which strikes me as being a particularly grisly custom. Bones now housed at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham – the Gothic extravaganza created by Pugin – are said to be those of the saint.
Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce at http://athomewithbooks.net/ where you can see photos from other participants all over the world.
A statue of St Chad stands in a niche
above the door to St Chad’s Church.
 Sources: http://lichfieldlore.co.uk/2012/03/18/well-being/(an excellent site on Lichfield’s rich heritage); http://www.stchads.org.uk/ (St Chad’s Church has a website and a fascinating guidebook); http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-841-1/dissemination/pdf/oxfordar1-50626_1.pdf  (report of archeological dig at the well site)
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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

52 thoughts on “Well Wishing where a Saint Stood…

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