This post was updated in December 2012 with additional photographs. the original pictures were taken in summer, newer ones in winter which enable the details of the construction of the well to be seen much more clearly.
Last Sunday we visited the Holy Well of St Tegla at Llandegla in Denbighshire. Accounts on the internet suggested that it might be overgrown and difficult to find, but on arriving it seems as though the well has very recently undergone a rediscovery, and is now signposted and accompanied by an interpretation panel. This does tend to detract from the romance of the well, but at least we were able to find it quickly.
St Tegla’s well is a healing well, with a reputation for curing epilepsy. It does, however, require a particularly complex ceremony to be carried out to be successful. This is described in Jones’ Holy Wells of Wales as follows
- Visit the well on a Friday after sunset
- Wash the hands and feet in the well
- Walk around the well three times repeating the lord’s prayer and carrying a cock in a hand basket
- Prick the cock with a pin, which is then thrown into the well
- Give a groat at the well to the parish clerk
- Then walk around the parish church three times with the cock, again repeating the Lords prayer
- Enter the church and place another groat in the poor box
- Lie under the communion table, with the Bible as a pillow until daybreak
- Place the cock’s beak in the mouth and blow, before letting the bird go
- Put a piece of silver in the poor box and leave the church.
If the cock dies then the patient would be cured, if not, then the process could be repeated. The process did ensure a regular income for the parish poor, many Welsh parishes became quite wealthy on proceeds from their holy wells.
An excavation at the well in the 1930s apparently yielded a large number of pins and coins, in addition to a quantity of white pebbles, which were frequently thrown for luck into holy wells. On our later visit there were the remains of ribbons hanging in the tree beside the well left by visitors.
What isn’t explained is how St Tegla became to be attached to the well, and indeed to the village whose name translates as the church of St Tegla. It is generally assumed that Tegla is a Welsh modification of St Thecla, Thecla is a saint from the early Christian Church, widely known as the first virgin martyr and one of the most ancient saints in the church calendar. She was supposedly a follower of Paul of Tarsus, not mentioned in the New Testament, the earliest record of her comes from the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla, probably composed in the 2nd century. Baring Gould has put forward the alternative view that Tegla was actually a local Welsh saint, although no records of her life exist.
According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla was a young noble virgin who listened to Paul’s “discourse on virginity” and became Paul’s follower and a Disciple of Paul’s teachings and Ministry. She had been betrothed to Thamyris, in an arranged marriage, and took Paul’s teachings as a reason to escape from this unwanted future. Thecla’s parents however became concerned that Thecla would follow Paul’s demand “that one must fear only one God and live in chastity”. Rather than simply grounding here for a few weeks, Thecla’s mother decided that the only suitable punishment was for her was to be burned at the stake. This punishment was followed through, however Thecla was miraculously saved by the onset of a freak localised rainstorm.
Having so escaped Thecla travelled with Paul to Pisidian Antioch where a nobleman, Alexander desired Thecla and attempted to take her by force. Thecla fought him off, assaulting him in the process, and was put on trial for assaulting a nobleman. This time she was sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts – they generally had more interesting punishments back then. However, once again, she was saved from death by a series of miracles when the female beasts protected her against her male aggressors. In the Eastern Church, the wide circulation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla is evidence of her veneration. She was called “Apostle and protomartyr among women” and even “equal to the apostles.”
How St Thecla came to be associated with this small village in Wales is uncertain. She was known in Britain during the Saxon period; Bede’s martyrology written around 720 includes an account of her life. Alternatively it has been suggested that the story of Thecla was reintroduced by returning crusaders.
There is a story that many years ago six stone heads were found in the close vicinity of the Well, and it may be assumed that they played some part in the Well/head cult. Each head measured about 11″, and until fairly recently they stood in the porch of the farmhouse at Rhosddigra. Unfortunately their current whereabouts is unknown. St. Tegla’s feast day on 23rd September. The well is about 100 yards from the church and the route signposted.