St Mary Magdalene’s Well, Cerrigydrudion

When asked to name a favourite well I often cite St Mary Magdalene’s well, Ffynnon Fair Fagdalen,  at Cerrigydrudion. It can be difficult to explain why since, compared to many of the better preserved and more illustrious wells in the region, it has little in its favour. I think to a great extent it is down to the fact that it has managed to cling on to life and remains relatively intact despite decades or even centuries of neglect. A symbol of the endurance of the wells of the region, and with a little more care and attention it has the potential to be a treasure.

For a long time I have wanted to get around to revising my post about it. I first visited and wrote about Ffynnon Fair Fagdalen in 2012, and sad to say I was not a little disparaging about both the well and the village of Cerrigydrudion, citing the following from 1849

The village is situated on a gentle eminence, and was formerly a thoroughfare on the great Irish road, which, by an improvement in the route, was afterwards diverted to a short distance from it, but still passes for several miles through the parish. The traffic on this line of road has much diminished since the opening of the Chester and Holyhead railway, in 1848. A post office has been established here. A market was at one time held on Friday, but it has fallen into disuse: fairs take place on March 14th, April 27th, August 24th, October 20th, and December 7th. [2]

When we visited it in March 2012 it retained this sense of closure, typical of so many villages these days, the one remaining village centre pub, The White Lion was closed and a number of shops around the central square seemed to be no longer trading. However, since then the pub has reopened and I have found the village to be a thriving and energetic local community.

St Mary Magdalene’s church lies at the centre of the village, and despite the fact that its notice board welcomed visitors to come inside with the promise of useful leaflets on things to do in the area on our first visit it was firmly locked although maybe this is a necessary precaution. A local legend recalls the time when the devil himself took up residence inside the church and it took a team of oxen to drag him out again, one can’t be too careful I suppose.

St Mary Magdalene Cerrigydrudion

The church was reputedly founded by Ieuen Gwas Padrig; a true Welsh saint who hailed from Llahrhaiadr, he was a disciple of St Patrick, hence the nickname Gwas Padrig – the servant of Patrick. His life history records him as a miracle worker from a young age, reported to have banished adders from the neighbourhood and driving crows from his father’s barn. His father was so impressed that he sent him to study pest control with St Patrick, whom he eventually followed to Ireland. Patrick soon recognised Ieuan’s miracle working skills, and reluctant to deprive Wales of such a saint sent him back. However it is told, that there was no ship available to carry him home, but, nothing daunted, Ieuan prayed and soon saw a blue slab floating on the water towards him, which he boarded and was carried safely to Anglesey. – where we find a medieval township dedicated to him near Malltraeth. Upon landing in Anglesey Ieuan struck his staff into the ground and out came a spring of clear water.

He was instructed by an angel to walk southwards until he spied a roebuck, at that point he was to establish his cell, This instruction led him to Cerrigydrudion where he established the church that he himself was said to have dedicated to St Mary Magdalene. This is supposed to have been around the year 400. The church may at one time have been dedicated to both Mary and Ieuan; prior to the Reformation St Ieuan Gwas Padrig was depicted in medieval stained glass at the church.

The gazetteer complied at the very end of the seventeenth century by academic Edward Lhuyd through his Parochial Queries lists a number of wells in the parish. Ffynnon Fair Fagdalen (Mary Magdalen’s well) he describes as being close to the church, although he notes that the old well was in Cae Tydyr, which may imply that the current well superseded an earlier holy well at a site some mile to the south west of the church. He also records Ffynnon Gwas Patrig – a well dedicated to the church founder, which contains very cold water suitable for treating swelling of the knees, a Ffynnon Brawd noted for curing warts and a ffynnon wen.

There is no record of cures at or specific uses of Mary Magdalene’s well, although, in common with many holy wells, a newspaper article from 1903 record that in the past water had been taken from the well to the church for use in baptism.[5]

Ffynnon Fair Fagdalen. Cerrigydrudion

The earliest detailed description of the well that I have found comes from the inspectors from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales who visited in August 1912 and described it then as follows

A spring of water about 200 yards north-east of the parish church…It is enclosed on three sides by rough masonry, and on the fourth side by two upright stones, at the bottom of one of which is a semi-circular hole for the overflow. Three steps at the north west corner lead down to the water. The enclosure is 6 feet 9 inches by 4 feet 6 inches; it is not and apparently never has been covered. The well is kept in good condition by the owner, [Mr E Tegid Owen}.

There was apparently an attempt around the turn of the century by members of the Dry Stone Walling association to restore the well, so the structure appears relatively and surprisingly intact. However, at the same time it seems to be a sink hole for all kinds of rubbish, we frequently find all manner of debris floating in it, buckets, tin cans and rotting plastic sacks. The well is covered over in part by fallen iron fencing, very unattractive though possibly done for safety reasons to prevent unwary people or livestock falling in. However, at the bottom of it all, under all the junk, there was still water, albeit stagnant and smelling, in the well.

The well basin measures about 6 feet by four feet, on three sides it is constructed of dry stone walling, the fourth side made up with a couple of massive stones stuck upright into the ground. Apparently at one time there were steps leading down into the basin. There is other stone scattered around on the surface around the well, presumably the remains of the recent attempts to restore it.

I have a number of pictures of the well taken over the past eight years, varying from depicting a rubbish filled pit to some of the most recent from February 2020 showing it filled with clearer and deeper water than I have seen before,  maybe a result of the wet winter. The well lies beside a footpath in the field backing onto the appropriately named road Maes-y-Ffynnon, the field itself is Cae Ffynnon. In the last couple of years the top half of the field has been taken for the site of a new house. The owners who are building it seem to take an interest in the well and it gives me hope that it will at least be preserved and might be better looked after in years to come.

St Mary Magdalene’s day is celebrated on July 22nd.

Baring-Gould Sabine and John Fisher (1911) the Lives of the British Saints, The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion
Cartwright, Jane (2008) Feminine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales. University of Wales Press
Lewis, Samuel (1849)  Topographical Dictionary of Wales
Lhuyd, Edward (1698) Parochial Queries
Baner ac Amserau Cymru 24th June 1903, p5

Revised May, 2020

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