St. Tredwell’s Loch, Papa Westray, Orkney Isles

Sacred Loch:  OS Grid Reference – HY 495 509

Folklore

I’ve already added a site-profile of the standing stones that used to be close to this loch, and added to it the folklore below; but I realised that for students of water-lore, a separate profile for the loch itself is needed.  For those of you who are not into water-lore, I hope you can forgive this repetition.

The loch, its associated chapel and the standing stones were visited at the end of the 17th century by John Brand, who gave a good account of the rituals performed by local people at the time.  They regarded the waters here as very special indeed, with great medicinal powers.  The loch had sense of sacrality whose nature was intimately tied to the repetition and regeneration of the seasons, valorizing the healing function of the waters.

By the edge of the loch stood St Tredwell’s church, outside of which was a cairn of stones.  When people visited here to be cured of their various ailments, they would pick up one of them and cast it into the loch as an offering (some folk would cast money), so that its waters would heal their illness.  According to Mr Brand and the local minister, such cures were numerous.  The narrative is truly fascinating.  Brand told us that,

“nigh to the east end of which this chapel is, is held by the people as medicinal, whereupon many diseased and infirm persons resort to it, some saying that thereby they have got good; as a certain gentleman’s sister upon the isle, who was not able to go to this loch without help, yet returned without it; as likewise a gentleman in the country who was much distressed wifh sore eyes, went to this loch, and washing there became sound and whole, though he had been at much pains and expense to cure them formerly.  With both which persons he who was minister of the place for many years was well acquainted, and told us that he saw them both before and after the cure.  The present minister of Westra told me that such as are able to walk, use to go so many times about the loch as they think will perfect the cure, before they make any use of the water, and that without speaking to any, for they believe that if they speak this will marr the cure: also he told that on a certain morning not long since he went to this loch and found six so making their circuit, whom with some difficulty he obliging to speak, said to him they came there for their cure.”

For the curing of sore eyes, the loch was specifically resorted to at Easter and during Lent.  Traditions such as these are found at other lochs in Scotland and at lakes in many other parts of the world.

Another interesting feature related to the element of Kingship; for the waters of the loch were said to turn red when anything important was going to happen to a member of the royal family.

St Tredwell herself—also known as St. Triduana—has her saints day on October 8.

References:

  1. Banks, M. MacLeod, British Calendar Customs: Orkney and Shetland, Folk-lore Society: London 1946.
  2. Black, G.F., Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Folk-Lore Society: London 1901.
  3. Brand, John, A Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, Pightland Firth and Caithness, George Mosman: Edinburgh 1701.
  4. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt: New York 1959.
  5. Fergusson, Robert M., Rambling Sketches in the Far North, Simpkin Marshall: London 1883.
  6. MacKinlay, James M., Influence of the Pre-Reformation Church on Scottish Place-Names, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1904.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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