Holy Well: OS Grid Reference – NT 22797 98814
Also Known as:
- Canmore ID 52894
- St Finglassin’s Well
- St Glass’s Well
In Kinglassie village, from the Main Street follow Redwells Road and turn right where it forks and follow the track until you get to the derelict ground; then turn left up the slope, following the eastern (right hand) edge of the wall up to the well.
Archaeology & History
Sheltered under its bower of hawthorn and elder bushes, at a distance it has the romantic look of an ancient holy well. But close up, the spring issuing from Finglassins Well shows evidence of having been connected up to the public water supply, with ugly brickwork and pipes obliterating any previous structures that may or may not have existed there. There even seems to be doubt as to its name. Ordnance Survey and Nicolson Street Atlas show it as ‘Finglassins Well’. According to the Canmore citation, which lists it as ‘St Finglassin’s Well’ or ‘St. Glass’s Well’:
This spring is now piped into a trough. There are several boulders nearby but no dressed stone and it is doubtful if there was ever any structure here. It is known by both names.
So who was the patronal saint, who is remembered variously as Finglassin, Glass, Glascianus, and Glastian? There seems to be some difference of opinion among the various sources, even as to whether any saint existed at all. Alban Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, tells:
“St. Glastian, Bishop and Confessor in Scotland: HE was a native of the county of Fife, and discharged in the same, during many years, the duties of the episcopal character with which he was honoured. Amidst the desolation which was spread over the whole country, in the last bloody civil war between the Scots and Picts, in which the latter were entirely subdued, St. Glastian was the comforter, spiritual father, and most charitable protector of many thousands of both nations. He died in 830, at Kinglace in Fifeshire, and was particularly honoured in that country, and in Kyntire. According to the ancient custom of that country, his name is frequently written Mac-Glastian, the word Mac signifying son.”
Bishop Forbes of Brechin, writing of St Glascianus in Kalendars of Scottish Saints:
“Of the life of the saint we have no details. The collect in the Breviary runs in these terms – ‘Grant we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who celebrate the anniversary of blessed Glascianus, Thy confessor and bishop, may by the intercession of his devout prayers, be deemed meet to attain to eternal joys through out Lord’ He is known in the parish of Kinglassie (or Kinglassin), near Kirkcaldy, of which frequent mention is made in the Register of Dunfermline.”
In the Old Statistical Account of 1792, Reverend James Reid, writing of the origins of Kinglassie:
“It is the opinion of some, that the name is originally Gaelic, and expressive of the situation; others trace it from a saint, whose name was Glass, and point out a well of fine water, called St. Glass’s well.”
Reverend J.M.Cunnynghame, in the New Statistical Account of 1845 wrote:
“While some have supposed that the village after which the parish is called, derives its appellation from a spring denominated St Glass’s Well, others, with apparently greater reason, have traced the name to Gaelic words signifying the ‘head of grey land’. This idea seems to be corroborated by the large extant of inundated, marshy, and mixed surface which….still stretches itself to the immediate vicinity of the village. The preferable conjecture concerning the the derivation of the name acquires additional support from the circumstance, that a locality, somewhat elevated above the channel, along which the water runs from the swamp alluded to, has received the appropriate designation of ‘Finglassie’ signifying the ‘termination of the gray land, or mixed bog.”
W.J.Watson, in The Celtic Place Names of Scotland gives the derivation of Kinglassie from the gaelic ‘cill glaise’ – ‘church of the brook’, and further:
“A well near the church is known as St Glass’s Well or St Finglassin’s Well. Here again, the stream ‘glais’ on which the church stands has been made into a saint; Findgassin is ‘find glaisín’ – ‘holy streamlet’. Near the church is an eminence called Finmont, for ‘finn monad’, later ‘fionn mhonadh’ – ‘white hill’, here probably ‘holy hill’. The real saint of Kinglassie is unknown.”
I am inclined to discount Cunnynghame’s laboured interpretation in view of Watson’s later linguistic analysis, as well as bearing in mind he was a minister of a Kirk that went out of its way to deny and denigrate the native pre-Reformation saints. Because of its position and ambience despite past industrial despoilation, I am inclined to a saintly attribution to the well, which as in so many cases in Scotland has lost its true history owing to the depredations of the Reformation. If Watson’s interpretation of ‘Finmont’, ½ mile north-east of the well, is indeed ‘Holy Hill’ then Finglassins Well may have been a part of an ancient, perhaps heathen ritual landscape.
- Reid, James, Parish of Kinglassie, Old Statistical Account, Fife, 1792.
- Cunnynghame, J.M. Parish of Kinglassie, New Statistical Account , Fife, 1845.
- Butler, Alban, The Lives of the Fathers,Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, James Duffy: Dublin 1866.
- Forbes, Bishop A.P., Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edmiston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1872.
- Watson, W.J., The Celtic Place Names of Scotland, (revised edition), Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2004 (originally published 1926).
© Paul T. Hornby 2018