'Cursed' Medieval Well Uncovered in England

Historic England Heritage
Historic England Heritage / Historic England Heritage

After it was found filled up with dirt, a centuries-old well that was once believed to hold sacred healing powers has been excavated.

St. Anne’s Well, named after the mother of the Virgin Mary, was discovered on a private farm near Liverpool in the UK. St. Anne inspired a cult following in the medieval era. According to Live Science, the well would have been a popular pilgrimage site for the devotees of the holy figure. The 4-foot pit features three stepping stones leading down into the 6.5-foot-by-6.5-foot sandstone pool. Once inside, bathers would have submerged themselves in the water to reap the full benefits of its alleged abilities to cleanse sins and heal skin and eye diseases.

The origins of the cult of St. Anne date back as far as 550 CE, but the group didn’t spread to England until the late 14th century. That means the well is likely no more than 600 years old, even though St. Anne herself was supposed to have taken a dip in it, according to local lore.

In addition to its holy reputation, the well is also associated with a gruesome curse. Legend has it that the well was the cause of a property dispute between a local monastery and a neighboring estate in the 16th century. Hugh Darcy, the estate’s landowner, had the monastery and well seized by the king’s commissioners after clashing with the prior of the monastery. In retaliation, the prior placed a curse on Darcy—and dropped dead himself soon after.

In the months that followed, Darcy would suffer financial troubles and the loss of his son to a mysterious illness. He used drinking as a coping mechanism, and after disappearing from a tavern one night, he was found dead in St. Anne’s Well with a crushed skull.

That folk-tale didn’t stop pilgrims from bathing in the well until the 1800s, and it didn’t stop modern-day archaeologists from excavating it. After years of ploughing, the only evidence of the historic site had been a few stones above ground (see first image below). Historic England Heritage was responsible for cleaning it out and replacing the stones that had fallen into the pit. They also added a new wooden buffer around the perimeter, which will hopefully keep the site clear of dirt and weeds in the future.

St. Anne’s Well in 2015. Image credit: Historic England Heritage

St. Anne's Well post-restoration. Image credit: Historic England Heritage

[h/t Live Science]