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English Holy Wells: v. 1: A Sourcebook [Paperback]

Jeremy Harte
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Heart of Albion Press (4 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905646100
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905646104
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 17.4 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,611,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Chronology for English Wells 12 Jan 2009
Over the summer of 1990 I roughed out the draft for what would become "The Living Stream" and though it acquired more detail and polish in the couple of years before it was handed to Boydell & Brewer the basic argument remained unchanged. It was a polemical statement by an obsessive undergraduate and, for all its championing of 'real history' over the fantasies which had afflicted the study of holy wells, involved an awful lot of flailing around in the dark in the hope of hitting something worthwhile (I like to think it often did). Jeremy Harte's book is the first major corrective to that study, and a smashing one.

Behind the pages of "English Holy Wells" lies an incredible amount of work. Jeremy has spent years chasing down the original source reference for every Christianised holy well known in England, excluding Cornwall. What this achieves (if that were not enough) is to strip away the accretions of misinterpretation, exaggeration, garbling and blunder to expose the secure bedrock of our knowledge about England's sacred springs. Armed with this information, he establishes a new and convincing chronology for the Christian well-cult in England, concluding that 'Holy Wells' so-named generally preceded those dedicated to saints, and fanned outwards from an original centre in the Midlands. The book has less interest in what happened after the Reformation, but later events and the creation of more modern holy wells nevertheless feature as part of the story. This is a pretty narrow focus, but the triumphant result shows what can be done by concentrating historiographical fire.

The argument is involved, but the book wears its great learning very lightly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book! 27 Jan 2009
If you only buy one book on holy wells - buy this one! Jeremy has done a fantastic amount of research.
A must have book for all serious researchers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definitive study 7 May 2012
This is a thorough historical work and will clearly last as an outstanding study of this subject, fully deserving to be described as definitive (with five stars!). Despite the outstanding nature of the work, however, I do not feel that Jeremy Harte has completely made the case against the "myth" (his word) that holy wells are a relic of "ancient cults against which the church preached in vain ... an important part of the religion of the ancient Celts". As he demonstrates, many wells have a documented medieval history of growing cultic status, or are of recent invention, but of course absence of evidence of a pre-Christian or Celtic origin is not evidence of absence. And suggestive evidence is surely not completely absent. As the author shows, Wales and south-west England have the greatest density of examples, and the east generally the lowest, and the church did have to struggle against unofficial water cults. But I don't want to dwell on that. He convincingly explodes some elements of the "myth".
This is THE book on the subject, although restricted to wells labelled "holy" and with saints names, and excluding Cornwall. As a clever way of keeping down the cost of a scholarly work of restricted appeal, the second and third volumes are supplied as pdfs, with a spreadsheet of the wells, on a CD with the printed volume 1.
Just to add a non-well but related story, I recently visited the ancient sites at Tara, in Ireland. A weather-beaten hawthorn on the site was draped with rags and other baubles, surely a continuing relic of ancient reverence? But no, the guide told me this habit had only started recently.
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