St. Brigid's Well

Liscannor, County Clare
Architecture
Liscannor, County Clare

 

The well as it exists today, is found within a stone well house where pilgrims continue to leave a great variety of votive offerings. The actual well area is surrounded by an iron fence, and pilgrims can enter through a gate. Within the well house is a modern statue of St. Brigid where people kneel to say prayers and perform other ritualized worship activities. There are various other prayer spots in the surrounding area and most visits conclude with drinking of the well water (Logan, 34).

In a 19th century survey it was found that Ireland was home to nearly three thousand holy wells. Of these, at least fifteen, and many are undocumented, are dedicated to St. Brigid. Because there are so many wells dedicated to her and since they have sometimes been defined so broadly as "any collection of water which for one reason or another is considered holy", it is necessary not to concentrate attention on a description of one particular well. Instead , it is more important to address the greater significance of both wells attributed to St. Brigid and those attributed to other saints, to Christians in Ireland and their pre-Christian precursors (Logan,48).

In the pilgrimage practices associated with St. Brigidís Well and other holy wells, there are many instances yet that appear to have bits of unexorcised paganism inherent within. The well at Liscannor is a case in point. Interestingly, the pilgrimage day for this site is not February 1, St. Brigidís feast day (Imbolc in the Celtic calendar), but instead falls on another significant pre-Christian holiday called Lughnasa, the first Sunday in August. Coincidences of the calendar of this type are remarkable because often in the myths surrounding these wells direct connections are made to their previous Druidic affiliations. In the many versions of The Lives of the Saints, mostly written before the thirteenth century, there are stories associated with the creation of wells where the patron saint "overcame and displaced the druids who previously had been in charge of the wells" (Logan, 15). Such blatant evidence of Christian assimilation of pagan sites is a rare extremity, other instances of adopted sites and traditions are more subtle. For example, the specific visitation times for certain of Irelandís holy wells are before sunrise or between sunset and sunrise. In Celtic mythology, these are the thin times of day, when passage and communication between the world of mortals and that of immortals becomes possible. Another tradition that shows ties to earlier times is the presence at many of the holy wells of sacred trees. Often it is an oak tree that is associated with St. Brigid , one of these at Kildare was known to have miraculous healing properties when parts of it were taken as relics (Logan,91). Oak trees were known to have spiritual relevance to the Celts.

Most important to St. Brigid and her passage from goddess to saint, however, are the associations of holy waters with mother worship. Most Celtic goddesses had topographical connections. That is they were often related to certain landforms such as mountains, lakes, rivers or even sacred wells. For example, the Paps of Anu, the River Boyne and the River Shannon are all named for a goddess. Brigid the Saintís relationship to water sources extends beyond mere holy wells also. She too has important connections to rivers and lakes.