Holy well in Michaelstow churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016366

Date first listed: 08-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of Holy well in Michaelstow churchyard
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Michaelstow

National Grid Reference: SX 08087 78848


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Holy wells are water sources with specifically Christian associations. The custom of venerating springs and wells as sacred sites is also known to have characterised pre-Christian religions in Britain and, although Christian wells have been identified from as early as the 6th century AD, it is clear that some holy wells originated as earlier sacred sites. The cult of holy wells continued throughout the medieval period. Its condemnation at the time of the Reformation (c.1540) ended new foundations but local reverence and folklore customs at existing holy wells often continued, in some cases to the present day. The holy wells sometimes functioned as sites for baptism but they were also revered for less tangible reasons, some of which may have had origins in pre- Christian customs, such as folklore beliefs in the healing powers of the water and its capacity to effect a desired outcome for future events. Associated rituals often evolved, usually requiring the donation of an object or coin to retain the 'sympathy' of the well for the person seeking its benefits. At their simplest, holy wells may be unelaborated natural springs with associated religious traditions. Structural additions may include lined well shafts or conduit heads on springs, often with a tank to gather the water at the surface. The roofing of walled enclosures to protect the water source and define the sacred area created well houses which may be simple, unadorned small structures closely encompassing the water source, or larger buildings, decorated in the prevailing architectural style and facilitating access with features such as steps to the water source and open areas with stone benching where visitors might shelter. At their most elaborate, chapels, and sometimes churches, may have been built over the well or adjacent well house. The number of holy wells is not known but estimates suggest at least 600 nationally. They provide important information on the nature of religious beliefs and practices and on the relationship between religion and the landscape during the medieval period.

This holy well survives well and appears to have undergone little restoration or alteration. It is considered to be of medieval date, possibly 12th century. It is a good example of a simply constructed holy well, which is close to the parish church, and from which water was taken to be used in baptisms.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a medieval holy well in the churchyard at Michaelstow. The holy well survives as a stone structure built into the side of a hill to the south east of the church. The well consists of a wall of squared granite blocks 1.24m high by 2.07m wide, with a large, almost square niche or recess set centrally into it, and another, smaller recess on its south west side. The large recess measures 0.75m wide by 0.76m deep and is constructed of squared granite blocks, with a large piece of granite forming the lintel over the top of the opening. A slab of slate set on edge forms a raised edge or lip, 0.22m high, at the base of the opening. Another large piece of slate is set in the floor of the recess. On the south west side of the recess is a small square hole leading to the small recess, and also a narrow rectangular slot which runs behind it. This small recess measures 0.46m high by 0.22m wide and 0.41m long. The top of the recess is formed by a shaped block of granite forming a simple pointed arch over the the opening. In its base is a small granite trough, to collect water. Immediately in front of the well is a level, slate paved area, 1.82m wide, with a large block of granite, 1.01m long, forming a seat or bench to the north east side. Next to this is an upright pillar of granite. There is a wall of squared granite blocks to either side of the paved area, and a path leads up a flight of six modern granite steps to the churchyard. This holy well dates to the medieval period, and it has been suggested that it may date to the 12th century. In 1990 the earth and debris of many years was removed and the well was partly restored. Water from the well was formerly used in baptisms, but now it is usually dry. The well is Listed Grade II. The gravel surface of the modern footpath to the north east of the holy well where it falls within its protective margin, is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 30422

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Quiller Couch, L, Quiller Couch, M, Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, (1894)
Wood, Reverend R, A guide to the ancient parish church of Michaelstow, (1996)
Consulted July 1996, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 17787,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 07/17; Pathfinder Series 1338 Source Date: 1988 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing