The Well of St. Ludgvan Legends of old England by Edwin Hartland

ST. LUDGVAN, an Irish missionary, had finished his work. On the hill-top, looking over the most beautiful of bays, the church stood with all its blessings. Yet the saint, knowing human nature, determined on associating with it some object of a miraculous character, which should draw people from all parts of the world to Ludgvan. The saint prayed over the dry earth, which was beneath him, as he knelt on the church stile. His prayer was for water, and presently a most beautiful crystal stream welled up from below. The holy man prayed on, and then, to try the virtues of the water, he washed his eyes. They were rendered at once more powerful, so penetrating, indeed, as to enable him to see microscopic objects. The saint prayed again, and then he drank of the water. He discovered that his powers of utterance were greatly improved, his tongue formed words with scarcely any effort of his will. The saint now prayed that all children baptised in the waters of this well might be protected against the hangman and his hempen cord; and an angel from heaven came down into the water, and promised the saint that his prayers should be granted. Not long after this, a good farmer and his wife brought their babe to the saint, that it might derive all the blessings belonging to this holy well. The priest stood at the baptismal font, the parents, with their friends around. The saint proceeded with the baptismal ceremonial, and at length the time arrived when he took the tender babe into his holy arms. He signed the sign of the cross over the child, and when he sprinkled water on the face of the infant its face glowed with a divine intelligence. The priest then proceeded with the prayer; but, to the astonishment of all, whenever he used the name of Jesus, the child, who had received the miraculous power of speech from the water, pronounced distinctly the name of the devil, much to the consternation of all present. The saint knew that an evil spirit had taken possession of the child, and he endeavoured to cast him out; but the devil proved stronger than the saint for some time. St. Ludgvan was not to be beaten; he knew that the spirit was a restless soul, which had been exorcised from Treassow, and he exerted all his energies in prayer. At length the spirit became obedient, and left the child. He was now commanded by the saint to take his flight to the Red Sea. He rose before the terrified spectators into a gigantic size, he then spat into the well; he laid hold of the pinnacles of the tower, and shook the church until they thought it would fall. The saint was alone unmoved. He prayed on, until, like a flash of lightning, the demon vanished, shaking down a pinnacle in his flight. The demon, by spitting in the water, destroyed the spells of the water upon the eyes and the tongue too; but it fortunately retains its virtue of preventing any child baptised in it from being hanged with a cord of hemp. Upon a cord of silk it is stated to have no power.

This well had nearly lost its reputation once--a Ludgvan woman was hanged, under the circumstances told in the following narrative:--

A small farmer, living in one of the most western districts of the county, died some years back of what was supposed at that time to be "English cholera." A few weeks after his decease his wife married again. This circumstance excited some attention in the neighbourhood. It was remembered that the woman had lived on very bad terms with her late husband, that she had on many occasions exhibited strong symptoms of possessing a very vindictive temper, and that during the farmer's lifetime she had openly manifested rather more than a Platonic preference for the jnan whom she subsequently married. Suspicion was generally excited; people began to doubt whether the first husband had died fairly. At length the proper order was applied for, and his body was disinterred. On examination, enough arsenic to have poisoned three men was found in the stomach. The wife was accused of murdering her husband, was tried, convicted on the clearest evidence, and hanged. Very shortly after she had suffered capital punishment horrible stories of a ghost were widely circulated. Certain people declared that they had seen a ghastly- resemblance of the murderess, robed in her winding-sheet, with the black mark of the rope round her swollen neck, standing on stormy nights upon her husband's grave, and digging there with a spade, in hideous imitation of the actions of the men who had disinterred the corpse for medical examination. This was fearful enough; nobody dared go near the place after nightfall. But soon another circumstance was talked of in connection with the poisoner, which affected the tranquillity of people's minds in the village where she had lived, and where it was believed she had been born, more seriously than even the ghost story itself. The well of St. Ludgvan, celebrated among the peasantry of the district for its one remarkable property, that every child baptised in its water (with which the church was duly supplied on christening occasions) was secure from ever being hanged.

No one doubted that all the babies fortunate enough to be born and baptised in the parish, though they might live to the age of Methuselah, and might during that period commit all the capital crimes recorded in the "Newgate Calendar," were still destined to keep quite clear of the summary jurisdiction of Jack Ketch. No one doubted this until the story of the apparition of the murderess began to be spread abroad, then awful misgivings arose in the popular mind.

A woman who had been born close by the magical well, and who had therefore in all probability been baptised in its water, like her neighbours of the parish, had nevertheless been publicly and unquestionably hanged. However, probability is not always the truth. Every parishioner determined that the baptismal register of the poisoner should be sought for, and that it should be thus officially ascertained whether she had been christened with the well water or not. After much trouble, the important document was discovered--not where it was first looked after, but in a neighbouring parish. A mistake had been made about the woman's birthplace; she had not been baptised in St. Ludgvan church, and had therefore not been protected by the marvellous virtue of the local water. Unutterable was the joy and triumph of this discovery. The wonderful character of the parish well was wonderfully vindicated; its celebrity immediately spread wider than ever. The peasantry of the neighbouring districts began to send for the renowned water before christenings; and many of them actually continue, to this day, to bring it corked up in bottles to their churches, and to beg particularly that it may be used whenever they present their children to be baptised.