Some Relics of the Past
By NEWHALL DAVIS.
One of the strangest effects the " Reformation " had upon English country life was that practically all the old customs, feasts, names and ideas persisted, whilst at the same time their significance became entirely lost.
There are flowers which the villager still calls " Our Lady's Fingers," "Our Lady's Bed Smock," " Our Lady's Slipper," and many others; the children still dance merrily to the catch from the ancient Miracle Play—the catch of " Poor Mary lies aweeping," and the village babies are thrilled or scared by " Jack-in-the-Box," that horrible " Reformation " travesty of the Holy Tabernacle.
There is a dry stone wall between Buxton and the ancient and beautiful village of Tideswell, where, protected by a slab of rough-hewn rock, is built-in what is known for miles round as the Wishing Stone. For ages past lovers have gone—and still go— shyly to this stone and, touching the centre hole with their fingers, ask that their wishes may come true; that their desires may be granted. But what is this Wishing Stone?
It is the base of a wayside Preaching Cross of the fourteenth century; torn down and mutilated by fanatics and built, hundreds of years later, into the wall by the side of the Miller's Bridge road. The purpose, the meaning of the Cross has been forgotten, but the association, given
to it in the days of the Old Faith, still persists. Just as the young men and maidens, hundreds of years ago, used to touch the wayside Cross and pray that Our Blessed Lady would grant their wishes, so they go today, with the same prayer, to the same battered, weather-beaten piece of stone.
And the grim irony of all this is that an eminent Protestant writer has described the visits to the Wishing Stan as " a survival of the blackest Paganism."
And what of our ancient Holy Wells? It has been said that many centuries ago these wells were worshipped, just as to-day there are still some who say that Catholics worship statues of the Holy Virgin. But Catholics do not " worship" the water at Lourdes; no one of the Faith used to " worship" that ever-flowing spring near Launceston at which so many miracles were wrought in the past; neither does anyone worship the Holy Well at Horseleydown, or the miraculous well of Blessed St. Editha, at Kemsing, Kent, where literally scores of sufferers have been relieved. We do not " worship the Holy Well of Blessed St. Winifrede, at Holywell, North Wales, which heals to-day as it has healed through the centuries.
There was a writer who came to Holywell to scoff, and departed greatly marvel
ling. He wrote, regarding it and other matters: " The knights and ladies of the fifteenth century who fell sick usually made a pilgrimage to the shrine of some saint. They knelt at the tomb of St. Salliebody, touched his hones and came away with some little fragment of his anatomy (sic). Or else they visited a well dedicated to the memory of St. Goodfellow, bathed and drank a little of the water, and came away whole in body and mind."
As I said, he came to scoff. Let us read what he said after his visit. He wrote: " At Holywell, a little town of Flintshire,, there is a well dedicated to St. Winifrede. It consists of a large, hexagonal stone basin, eight or ten feet deep, and from the rocky floor for fourteen centuries has bubbled a spring which is said to have healing virtues. The lame have come there and gone away cured, hanging their crutches in the shrine
to the glory of God. The blind, it is claimed, have received their sight; the deaf their hearing. A great deal of testimony has been collected, and a soldier of Burnley, who had been blind since September, 1915, after bathing several times in the well, is credibly reputed to have suddenly regained his sight." He adds: " Are they all make-believe, these cases of miraculous healing? Do the sick who go there Come away believing they are well when they are not? 1, for one, cannot entertain such an idea. To do so Gee would have to take a very pessimistic view of human nature. It is not an easy matter to persuade a sick man that he is well. Pain and disability are hard taskmasters and they will not allow their presence to be forgotten."