[MR] Saint Aldhelm

Garth Groff via Atlantia atlantia at seahorse.atlantia.sca.org
Sat Mar 19 03:48:31 PDT 2016

Noble Friends,

On Saturday I wrote about Wells Cathedral. The main Wikipedia article 
mentions that the Cathedral was built upon an earlier Saxon church 
founded by Aldhelm in 705. The post I was writing started to go in too 
many fascinating directions, so I left Aldhelm out of my piece, but he 
is a very interesting person, and one with whom I have two slight 
personal connections, so today you get this separate article.

Aldhelm was active in the 7th and 8th centuries, evangelizing the Saxons 
in what is now southern England. He was a very popular preacher, and 
apparently quite a showman, who used his humor, wit and compassion to 
attract pagans to the Church. Aldhelm served as Abbot of Malmsbury, and 
later Bishop of Sherborne. He is also credited with being the first 
Anglo-Saxon language librarian, the one of my personal connections (I am 
a librarian, though only a paraprofessional). No, he is not the patron 
saint of librarians, a portfolio held by Saint Catherine of Alexandria 
(that's Saint Catherine with the wheel) who is the general patron of all 
knowledge-workers. Here is a Wikipedia article about Saint Aldhelm: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldhelm .

On our second trip to England in 2005, Lady Sarah and I wanted to visit 
a holy well. Holy wells, pilgrimage sites, and saints in general, are 
among our special interests. Holy wells used to be a "groat a dozen" in 
England, since they were often re-branded pagan religious sites. In 
scratching around for a site to visit, I discovered Saint Aldhelm's Holy 
Well in Doulting. This isn't really a well as we think of them, but a 
spring which flows from under a small hill upon which there sits . . . 
surprise . . . St. Aldhelm's Church Doulting: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Aldhelm,_Doulting . According 
to legend, Aldhelm used to meditate in the frigid water of that spring. 
Later a stone canopy was built over the spring, and it became a popular 
local pilgrimage and healing site. Lady Sarah and I talked our driver 
guide into taking us to Doulting where we visited the delightful church 
and viewed the spring. I've read that the ruins of the canopy are 
concealed in the thick brush around the site, but I saw no evidence of 
any such structure. What we saw there was a rather substantial stream 
flowing out from what appears to be a bricked up cave (partly modern, 
probably to keep the curious from crawling back into a dangerous place): 
. While there, I reached down into the water and pulled out a small 
chert pebble (yeah, I probably shouldn't have done that) which I still 
have as a token of the visit. I guess I have a secret devotional streak, 
and that stone is my second connection to Aldhelm.

But wait, there's another St. Aldhelm's Well in nearby Malmsbury: 
http://people.bath.ac.uk/liskmj/wells/wilts/aldhelm.htm . I only learned 
about this well after our trip. Since it is on private property, it is 
unlikely we would have been able to visit anyway. So which is the real 
well where the saint meditated? The Malmsbury site is really more 
likely, given that Aldhelm was abbot here, but the Doulting well was the 
real pilgrimage site for thousands of the faithful. I can't answer this, 
but it is a fascinating question.

Yours Aye,

Lord Mungo Napier, That Crazy Scot

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