Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

men, and he indicated to me some of their descendants as well known in the neighbourhood. I cross-examined him all the more severely, as I had heard the other view of the remoteness of the date. But nothing could shake Kelly, who added that soon after the date of the above mentioned cases the civil functionary, known as the vicar-general, put an end to the chapter jury and to public penance: according to his reckoning the penance he spoke of must have taken place about 1832. Another old man, named Kewley, living now near Kirk Michael, but formerly in the parish of Lezayre, had a similar story. He thinks that he was born in the sixth year of the century, and when he was between eighteen and twenty he saw a man doing public penance, in Lezayre Church, I presume, but I have no decided note on that point. However that may be, he remembered that the penitent, when he had done his penance, had the audacity to throw the white sheet over the sumner, who, the penitent remarked, might now wear it himself, as he had had enough of it. Kewley would bring the date only down to about 1825.

Lastly, I was in the island again in 1891, and spent the first part of the month of April at Peel, where I had conversations with a retired captain who was then about seventy-eight. He is a native of the parish of Dalby, but he was only 'a lump of a boy' when the last couple of immorals were forced to do penance in white sheets at church. He gave me the guilty man's name, and the name of his home in the parish, and both the captain and his daughter assured me that the man had only been dead six or seven years; that is, the penitent seems to have lived till about the year 1884. I may here mention that the parish of Dalby is the subject of many tales, which go to show that its people were more old-fashioned in their ways than those of the rest of the island. It appears to have been the last, also, to be reached by a cart road; and I was amused by a native's description of the men at Methodist meetings in Dalby pulling the tappag, or forelock, at the name of Jesus, while the women ducked a curtsy in a dangerously abrupt fashion. He and his wife appeared to be quite used to it: the husband was an octogenarian named Quirc, who was born on the coast near the low-lying peninsula called the Narbyl, that is to say ' the Tail.'

To return to the public penance, it seems to us in this country to belong, so to say, to ancient history, and it transports us to a state of things which we find it hard to realize. The lapse of years has brought about profounder changes in our greater Isle of Britain than in the smaller Isle of Man, while we ourselves, helpless to escape the pervading influence of those profounder changes, become living instances of the comprehensive truth of the German poet's words,

Omnia mutaniur, nos el mutamur in Mis.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER VI
The Folklore Of The Wells

. . . Iuvat integros accedere fontes.—Lucretius.

It is only recently1 that I heard for the first time of Welsh instances of the habit of tying rags and bits of clothing to the branches of a tree growing near a holy well. Since then I have obtained several items of information in point: the first is a communication received in June, 1892, from Mr. J. H. Davies, of Lincoln College, Oxford—since then of Lincoln's Inn—relating to a Glamorganshire holy well, situated near the pathway leading from Coychurch to Bridgend. It is the custom there, he states, for people suffering from any malady to dip a rag in the water, and to bathe the affected part of the body, the rag being then placed on a tree close to the well. When Mr. Davies passed that way, some three years previously, there were, he adds, hundreds of such shreds on the tree, some of which distinctly presented the appearance of having been very recently placed there. The well is called Ffynnon Cae Moch, 'Swine-field Well,' which can hardly have been its old name; and a later communication from Mr. Davies summarizes a conversation which he had about the well, on December 16, 1892, with Mr. J. T. Howell, of Pencoed, near Bridgend. His notes run thus:—'Ffynnon Cae Moch, between Coychurch and Bridgend, is one

1 This was written at the end of 1892, and read to a joint meeting of the Cymmrodorion and Folk-Lore Societies on January it, 1893.

mile from Coychurch, one and a quarter from Bridgend, near Tremains. It is within twelve or fifteen yards of the high-road, just where the pathway begins. People suffering from rheumatism go there. They bathe the part affected with water, and afterwards tie a piece of rag to the tree which overhangs the well. The rag is not put in the water at all, but is only put on the tree for luck. It is a stunted, but very old tree, and is simply covered with rags.' A little less than a year later, I had an opportunity of visiting this well in the company of Mr. Brynmor-Jones; and I find in my notes that it is not situated so near the road as Mr. Howell would seem to have stated to Mr. Davies. We found the well, which is a powerful spring, surrounded by a circular wall. It is overshadowed by a dying thorn tree, and a little further back stands another thorn which is not so decayed: it was on this latter thorn we found the rags. I took off a twig with two rags, while Mr. Brynmor-Jones counted over a dozen other rags on the tree; and we noticed that some of them had only recently been suspended there: among them were portions undoubtedly of a woman's clothing. At one of the hotels at Bridgend, I found an illiterate servant who was acquainted with the well, and I cross-examined him on the subject of it. He stated that a man with a wound, which he explained to mean a cut, would go and stand in the well within the wall, and there he would untie the rag that had been used to tie up the wound and would wash the wound with it: then he would tie up the wound with a fresh rag and hang the old one on the tree. The more respectable people whom I questioned talked more vaguely, and only of tying a rag to the tree, except one who mentioned a pin being thrown into the well or a rag being tied to the tree.

My next informant is Mr. D. J. Jones, a native of the Rhonda Valley, in the same county of Glamorgan. He was an undergraduate of Jesus College, Oxford, when I consulted him in 1892. His information was to the effect that he knows of three interesting wells in the county. The first is situated within two miles of his home, and is known as Ffynnon Pen Rhys, or the Well of Pen Rhys. The custom there is that the person who wishes his health to be benefited should wash in the water of the well, and throw a pin into it afterwards. He next mentions a well at ILancarvan, some five or six miles from Cowbridge, where the custom prevails of tying rags to the branches of a tree growing close at hand. Lastly, he calls my attention to a passage in Hanes Morganwg, 'The History of Glamorgan,' written by Mr. D. W. Jones, known in Welsh literature as Dafyd Morganwg. In that work, p. 29, the author speaks of Ffynnon Marcross, ' the Well of Marcros,' to the following effect:—' It is the custom for those who are healed in it to tie a shred of linen or cotton to the branches of a tree that stands close by; and there the shreds are, almost as numerous as the leaves.' Marcros is, I may say, near Nash Point, and looks on the map as if it were about eight miles distant from Bridgend. Let me here make it clear that so far we have had to do with four different wells1, three of which are severally distinguished by the presence of a tree adorned with rags by those who seek health in those waters; but they are all three, as the reader will have doubtless noticed, in the same district, namely, the part of Glamorganshire near the main line of the Great Western Railway.

There is no reason, however, to think that the custom of tying rags to a well tree was peculiar to that part of

1 Some account of them was given by me m Folk-Lon for 1893, p. 380; but somehow or other my contribution was printed unrevised, with results more peculiar than edifying.

« ForrigeFortsæt »