- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- West Somerset (District Authority)
- National Park:
- National Grid Reference:
- SS 91425 46897
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
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
The stone structure of Katherine's Well in Selworthy Plantation is well-preserved and in a stable condition. It is a good example of its class of monument and is sited in a highly visible location adjacent to a waymarked footpath popular with walkers. Katherine's Well has attracted visitors continuously since its foundation which is believed to have been, at the latest, during the medieval period.
The monument includes Katherine's Well, a holy well located on a south
facing slope towards the southern edge of Selworthy Plantation. The well
head, which is believed to be of medieval date, covers a spring which
flows constantly to join Aller Brook to the south. It is formed by a
structure of large stone slabs, some up to 1m across, arranged around the
water source. This structure is 4m wide and 3.5m downslope from the top
to the bottom, and has a small, near-circular well of approximately 1m in
diameter located near the centre. A small bridge-like structure
constructed of rough stone is located just above the circular well and
across the spring.
The wooden marker board bearing the name `Catherine's Well' is excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Horne, E, Somerset Holy Wells, (1923), 52
SS 94 NW 5, National Monuments Record,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing