Holy Well (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NT 2618 7353
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 75958
- Silver Well
Archaeology & History
This ‘holy well of the dragon-slayer’ could once be found close to where old Cowgate meets St Mary’s Street. Highlighted on an old map of the city around 1540, and on Mr Bryce’s sketch of the old inner city at the end of the 19th century, we do not know when the Well acquired its name, but it may have been by an early group of jews, to whom the saint was important. Hereby in 1779 was listed a small piece of land called the ‘Silverwell Close’ which both Watson (1923) and Harris (1996) thought was a corruption of the St Michael’s Well, somehow. Watson (1923) explained that St Michael’s
“connection with fountains, or a ‘silver well’, is probably due to the legends of the miraculous spring of Monte Galgano in Apulia and Mont-Saint-Michele in Normandy.”
In Ruth & Frank Morris’ (1981) survey of Scottish holy wells, they report how, in the 16th century, this forgotten site was “a favourite resort” of local people. They told how,
“in 1543 an act of penance was ordered to be performed at the fountain of St. Michael.”
St Michael was a powerful mythic figure to the Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the old calendar in Scotland his festival date was September 29th and known as ‘Michaelmas’ (although other dates have been ascribed by the varying sects in other countries). In truth, this site should be highlighted for tourists, pilgrims, historians and religious followers alike due to the importance this mythic figure once held in the various pantheons.
- Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh, TNA 2017.
- Harris, Stuart, The Place-Names of Edinburgh: Their Origins and History, Gordon Wright: Edinburgh 1996.
- Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
- Watson, Charles B.B., “Notes on the Names of the Closes and Wynds of Old Edinburgh,”in Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, volume 12, 1923.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian