While lying in bed this morning, mulling over things to do, I decided I must go to St. Oswalds Well this week to fetch some healing waters. The story behind the well is fascinating, first told to me by my late Mother as a child of 9 or 10, I have always wondered what happened that day, way back in the…
… the Dark Ages, when the country was still split into kingdoms. Oswald, Christian King of Northumberland travelled south to meet the Pagan King of Mercia, Penda in battle. On his way south, it is said Oswald dinned with clergy, and his right hand was blessed by the Bishop.
So Oswald and his army moved south, to the lands of Mercia. History does not record why he wished to fight Penda, the reason is lost in the mists of time. But the battle took place not far from the English/Welsh border of the present day, and by all accounts a terrible battle it was!
Oswald was defeated; slain in the heat of the killing! His body nailed to a great oak, Penda’s men took great relish in hacking it apart. When the furore had died away and the ravens came down to scavenge, Oswalds right arm was carried away by one of the birds, but it proved to heavy for the raven to carry and it fell to earth. Where it fell, a spring suddenly gushed up, the waters were found to be healing. A miracle had occurred and the news spread. A small Church was founded and the cult of Oswald and the raven began. (He’s very big in Germany apparently)
This place was known to the Welsh as Croes Oswallt, Oswalds Cross, but in English it was known by another name, Oswalds Tree, which eventually became Oswestry.
The Holy Well is still there, flowing nicely. The Victorians saw fit to improve the spot, and the council in the 70s to build houses next to it! But the battle site, traditionally known as the Maserfield is still there, the playing (sports) fields of Oswestry School. As far as I know, no attempt to prove this site has taken place. No digs or surveys, yet.
The date of the battle is 642AD and the Parish Church of St Oswalds, founded in the 13thC, is worth a visit. There is however, a bit of a mystery surrounding the first church. References to a Blanc Minster are known, and there is an area just outside of the town called Llanforda. Llan being once translated as Church, but now thought to mean burial or resting place of. Forda, I think could have been Fordd-road. But which ever way I as an Oswestrian look at it, no doubt the well was there before the battle and maybe, just maybe, had pagan associations. But thats just my opinion! As I’ve said the truth has been lost.
When I was sixteen, still in school and rather bothered by the warts on my hands, which I’d tried to get rid off in several different ways, including a trip to the doctors! My Mother suggested I go to St. Oswalds Well and ‘wash my hands in the healing waters’ on my way home from school. This I did, for about a week. She’d said to say a little prayer, asking the waters to take my warts away. In retrospect, I think it was more of a charm. It worked! A week later the warts slowly began to go and one literally fell off in my fingers as I played with it. I remember showing her the tiny, pinprick of a hole where the root had gone into my finger! I decided it would be a good idea to say thank you to the well and St. Oswald, who to me, was still there in spirit, obviously as he’d healed my warts! So I picked a posy of wildflowers from the hedgerows walking there one day after school and laid them on the top on the wall around the well. In those days, the spot was still surrounded by files and trees on all sides, with just a little foot path, generations of folk had walked, leading up to the well. To a teenager, who seemed to attract the Spirits, it was a place of Mystery and wonder. The wind in the trees, whispered to me as I gave my thanks, and something deep and powerful surrounded me. I wondered if this was how God made himself known. But looking back it was the Spirit of the Place, rather than the Old Man with Beard that touched me that day. I was left with a feeling of peaceful contentment and returned many times during my school and college days, to reconnect with what ever was there.
Much later, when I had been away from the area, and returned. Seeking calm in the stormy seas of my life I returned, horrified to see my sacred place had been changed beyond recognition. The foot path leading through the field had gone, to be replaced with a new housing development on the field! I ran on, afraid that the well had been swallowed up too! Thankfully, it was (and is) still there, but the energy had shifted, the Spirit of the place or what ever I had contacted, had gone.
Sadly, it’s never returned. Over the last forty or so years, I have never felt it there again, even tho’ I have visited the well many, many times.
But I will pick snowdrops and leave them there as an offering of thanks, when I visit this new moon, and take of the waters, to honour what ever is left of that Spirit that gave me a sense of healing so many years ago.