Chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017045

Date first listed: 02-Jan-1968

Date of most recent amendment: 25-Nov-1999


Ordnance survey map of Chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Sancreed

National Grid Reference: SW 41784 29296


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.

The chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs survive reasonably well, despite some restoration and landscaping of the site in the late 19th century. The two fragments of carved stone doorway suggest that the chapel was built or rebuilt in the late 15th or early 16th century, at which period the well seems to have been well known in Cornwall. Despite little being recorded about the chapel and well and any traditions lost, it has become a popular site of pilgrimage today among `pagans' and those interested in `earth mysteries'.


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


The monument includes a medieval chapel and holy well on Chapel Downs, 500m south west of Sancreed. The chapel survives as a small rectangular granite structure orientated WNW-ESE with an entrance in the west end of the south wall. The internal measurements of the chapel are 4.2m long by 2.6m wide at the east end narrowing to 1.8m wide at the west end. The walls survive up to a height of 1.1m; the west wall is the best preserved, all the others having irregularities in their fabric and layout which represent a degree of rebuilding. Thick pieces of slate found to the south of the chapel when repairing the path suggest that at one time the building had a slate roof. On one side of the entrance is a moulded arched stone, one of two fragments which formed part of a doorway. There are two modern slate memorial slabs against the external face of the west wall of the chapel. The holy well, located 3m south of the chapel, survives as a roughly corbelled rectangular granite chamber over a rectangular well basin, the basin set approximatety 2m deep in the ground. The chamber forms a roughly domed cover over the basin giving the well a cave-like appearance enhanced by the patches of phosphorescent green moss on the walls. The basin measures 0.95m long by 0.55m wide and is orientated NNW to SSE. Water seeps into the basin from the back wall, while access to the well basin is from the SSE via a flight of seven irregular granite steps, 1.8m long and 0.6m wide, at the base of which is a small level area 0.7m by 0.5m. The walls of the chamber are roughly coursed and unmortared and the roof is formed of four granite lintels. Modern disturbance has been caused to the well with the insertion of a clay pipe set in brick in the SSE wall below the water level, which probably feeds water from the well to two water tanks 60m to the east of the site. Immediately to the west of the well is a substantial hollow, 2m by 1.75m and at least 0.7m deep. The relationship of this hollow to the well is uncertain, but it may indicate that the stone well chamber was inserted into a larger hollow or spring head, and that the hollow was left accessible to protect or control the water supply. At the head of the steps to the basin is a large rectangular moulded fragment of a doorway which has been reused as a footbridge over an overflow channel from the well. This overflow channel measures 1.2m wide and 0.27m deep. Approximately 8m to the east the overflow channel is bridged by a tumble of boulders and enlarged to form a small pond with rockery behind. A modern granite cross measuring 1.7m high and is set on a two stepped granite base is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. The top step of the base is octagonal, the bottom one circular with an inscription in lead letters commemorating its erection. This cross was erected in 1910 and is a copy of a medieval cross in Illogan churchyard. Both the chapel and well were virtually unrecorded until the 19th century. In 1425 the vicar had license for two chapels in Sancreed parish, of which this was probably one. The two carved stones, which form part of a doorway, suggest that the chapel was either built or rebuilt in the late 15th or early 16th century. The well today is a focus for `pagans' and people interested in `earth mysteries'; votive offerings such as flowers or pebbles are left in the well chamber and rags or clouties are left hanging on a nearby tree. The chapel and well are Grade II Listed Buildings. The iron railings to the south east of the well, the slate memorial and the early 20th century cross are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 31855

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Preston-Jones, A, Holy Well on Chapel Downs Sancreed, (1998)
Preston-Jones, A, Holy Well on Chapel Downs Sancreed, (1998)
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 32/42; Pathfinder Series 1368 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing