Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Chalice Well, Glastonbury’s Sacred Red Spring

Note: This account of my visit to the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, England, on my 2018 visit to the UK, was originally written for my book, "Florida's Healing Waters."

One of the first things my wife and I did when arriving in Bath, England was book a day trip to Glastonbury, a nearby village that is setting for legends about such monumental figures as Jesus Christ and King Arthur. Healing waters are prominent in this ancient mythology and I was excited to visit the Chalice Well, described as a sanctuary of “pilgrimage, healing, and peace.”

The sacred well and gardens was an option on the tour, and three of us hopped off the motorcoach while the rest of the group explored the village of Glastonbury. After paying a small admission to the non-profit that maintains the grounds, we entered a lovely landscaped space of extreme tranquility. The water from the spring descends the length of the garden over a series of terraces and is collected in small pools at various points before exiting the site via a serpentine conduit stained red by the chalybeate waters. Benches surrounded the small basin at the lowest level, called the Vesica Pool, and I noticed the other visitors engaged in quiet meditation around the water. As I headed up the hill following the water’s course, I passed under “Guardian” Yew trees, and entered an area called King Arthur’s Court and its “Healing Pool.” Steps led down to a level wading pool, and if I had more time I would have loved to remove my shoes and experience the waters. Around the path were niches and nooks full of silent meditators, and the smell of incense wafted over the grounds. 

At the next level water poured out of a lion’s head and filled two small drinking glasses, and the brochure provided stated that this is the only place in the garden where the water is safe to drink, although moderation was urged. I found the water to have a subtle taste of minerals, and after a quick sip I headed up to the well, the source of the sacred water. The well’s cover was a circular wooden block framed in decorative wrought iron with a symbol of two interlocking circles called a Vesica Pisces – said to represent the “union of heaven and earth” – intersected by a sword (perhaps representing King Arthur). Visitors sat in silence on stone benches around the spring, and the shady glen surrounding it retained a peaceful energy despite the presence of a couple kids who appeared unmoved to be in the presence of this sacred water source. It is at this spot where legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea “buried or washed” the Holy Grail from Last Supper, and the iron-stained waters “miraculously” sprang forth representing the blood of Christ.

In the well-appointed gift shop near the entrance to the gardens, I noticed a painting on note cards and posters of a semi-transparent, mystical-looking goddess figure hovering over the wellhead, her arms lifted forming the shape of a chalice. This rendering of the “Deva of Chalice Well”, a spirit being said to “guide and protect the forces of nature” reminded me of how the hot springs of Bath were first associated with goddess Sulis, and then the Roman Goddess Minerva. For thousands of years, cultures have associated sacred water with feminine energy. That tradition continues in the present day at the Chalice Well.