This holy well in the village of Holystone in Northumberland has been venerated since at least Roman times, and possibly long before. It was situated by a Roman road running from the fort of Bremenium to the coast, and it was probably the Romans who built the stone walls which contain the waters today. The spring-fed well never freezes or runs dry, and as well as a practical function in providing water to travellers and their animals, it was likely venerated as a sacred place. Springs are venerated in many cultures and the Romans commonly built shrines around them.
It was later dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon Saint Ninian, who performed baptisms here in the 5th century, and also St Paulinus, who reputedly baptised 3000 Northumbrians at the well in AD627. This is almost certainly legend rather than history. A 15th century statue of St Paulinus stands beside the well today. The Celtic-style cross is a Victorian addition.
The well was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the 12th century when an Augustinian Priory was built in the village, and this dedication remains today.
It’s a powerful and peaceful place today, reflecting the wild nature of the Northumberland countryside and the number of people who have paid their respects to the place over two thousand or more years. The number of coins in its waters are testament to the number of people who still respect its vitality. It was recently announced one of the top ten historic spiritual sites in England.
A second ancient well is found in the village, dedicated to St Mungo, the 6th century founder of Glasgow. It’s possible this was once a ‘mugger’s’ (tinker’s) well, the saintly dedication a Victorian addition.