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The practise of visiting a well to ask for a blessing is a centuries old tradition in Wales. Cursing one’s mortal enemy, however, is a much more recent practise.

The veneration of saints and their holy wells has a long tradition across Wales. The wells around Holyhead are no different. Their former use and importance reflects centuries old traditions and changes in attitudes towards life and folk beliefs.

Lying just to the west below Holyhead Mountain are the ruins of Capel Lochwydd, labelled ‘Capel Yloughwid’ on John Speed’s map of Anglesey from 1610. Having been ruined now for well over a century, not much more than the wall foundations can still be seen here. Dedicated to an unknown saint, its well used to flow from a cleft in the rocks nearby, but has since dried up. According to local legend, the well was popular with visitors who wanted to divine their future spouse. Taking a mouthful of water from the well and with gravel in each hand, the devotee would walk back to the church and deposit all on the altar stone of the little church without spilling anything. If successful, they were to marry their intended within a year.

According to folk belief, wells that overflowed to the south carried cursing powers. At nearby village Penrhos, locals visited a well that was supposed to have restorative as well as cursing powers. It was said that the water was able to cure cancer if the patient bathed in the water. Alternatively, by uttering curses and dropping pins around the well, visitors could afflict their enemies with cancer. By the mid-nineteenth century, the well was in such great demand that repeated damage to the surrounding property caused the farmer on whose land it was situated to destroy the well by draining it.

Further east near Llaneilian, Anglesey, Ffynnon Elian also served as a cursing well. The person seeking revenge would deposit silver pennies in the nail-studded alms chest (cyff Elian) located in the nearby church. Excavations of the well in 1925 discovered a small slate to which a wax effigy had been pinned. As was common with small cursing tablets, various letters had been scratched into the surface of the slate, wishing misfortune on ‘RF’.

In Wales, the practise of visiting wells for their restorative, healing powers had been in place for centuries. Using wells to cast curses only developed in the second half of the eighteenth century and only lasted for about one hundred years.

- Ffynnon Elian on Anglesey was said to have exceptional healing powers similar to those of St Winefride’s Well at Holywell.
- There is another cursing well named Ffynnon Elian at Llaneilian-yn-Rhos, Conwy.
- Even after the Reformation, the people in Wales continued to visit holy wells dedicated to saints.

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