These are photographs I took of St Helen’s Well whilst dressed for Beltane.  This ancient spring can be found near a village called Goodmanham in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  It is close to a public footpath called the Hudson Way which follows the route of the old disused Beverley-Market Weighton railway line.

Goodmanham was an important place in Anglo-Saxon times as it was the site for a pagan shrine and temple of Woden.  This pagan shrine was overthrown in 627 by a priest Coifi on the conversion of King Edwin to christianity, an incident described in Bede’s History of the English Church and People.  The story relates that Coifi borrowed a war stallion and an axe both of which were forbidden to him as a priest.  He galloped to the temple and flung the weapon into the holy place. Seeing that no harm came to him, the company that followed him demolished the shrine and burned  it to the ground.

Edwin was later defeated by the Pagan King Penda of Mercia and the Welsh King Cadwallon and killed at the battle of Hatifeld Chase in 633.

There are various origins for springs named St Helen’s well as myths and legends relating to several Helens and Elens became intertwined.  One goes back to St Helen, the mother of Constantine from the 3rd century.  Another origin of the name goes back to Elen, the Goddess of the Ways, the goddess who presided over physical and spiritual paths.  This goes back to Elen Luyddogg from the tale ‘The Dream of Macsen Wledig in the cycle of Welsh legend, the Mabinogion.  Macsen discovers Elen in a dream and they meet and marry within a day.  As his empress she gets the land of three chief cities as a gift and then supervised the building of roads from each city’s fortress to the next to assist in their protection.  Hence the Goddess of the Ways.

 

 

There is a bench close to the well with this rather beautiful piece of verse inscribed on it referring to the story. It reads:

From dark to dark through fire-lit hall flies the axe that strikes the shrine

through burning that grows once more in stone and coloured light

through rain as it amazes chalk and flowers in this latest cup of breath.

 

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