by Mark Harrell
Hill walkers, peace keepers, pilgrims; many people now find their way to the holy well of the martyr St. Issui located by a stream at the foot of the hill of the church of the same name. It is a location of utter solitude; here you can meditate or leave a votary object as a sign of that pilgrimage or absorb the peace of the vale of Grwyne.
A flagstone staircase leads down to the well, one carved with a Maltese cross to show the way. It is an ancient site which pre-dates its Christian adoption, water being the fundamental evangelical aspect in the tool of holy baptism. The early Celtic convert to the church Issui was a hermit here and in time lent his name, somewhat corrupted to Patricio, to the foundation. He was martyred, canonized and the future church dedicated to him.
This well reputedly was a cure for leprosy. Those taking the water here left money for the foundation of a church. One continental pilgrim was so impressed he is said to have left a hatful of gold coin for the purpose. The results now stand a five minute walk above.
Wells are ubiquitous in Wales. The Welsh ‘Llan’ is mostly sited to natural phenomena; unlike the ‘aspiring’ churches of England, Wales’ churches are grounded, chthonic, and abide to the conditions of the age of saints which can be traced to the departure of the Romans from these islands.
Water finds its way into church. Always. The font, usually the first object one sees on pushing the porch door open is at the core of the Christian programme and as such is generally the oldest part of the church‘s fabric. This one, dedicated by inscription to a prince of Powys harks back to its creation just prior to the Norman Conquest.
The well has been crammed with ephemera; plastic toys pushed into crevices, shells perched on stone ledges, strings bearing colourful streamers and ribbons like a Tibetan stupa with prayer flags fluttering. The last time I visited some modern-day iconoclast had visited and brushed it all away leaving one puritan hornbeam crucifix guarding the waters.
Read Mark’s full article on the Church of Merthyr Issui in issue 0 of The Keep