St. Augustine's Well, also known as the Silver Well, is a sacred well in Cerne Abbas.
According to legend, St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 604 AD) visited Dorset. He met some shepherds in the then-unihabited Cerne valley, and asked them if they would prefer beer or water to drink. When the temperate lads replied "water," the saint struck the ground with his staff, crying out "Cerno El," which means "I perceive God" and is also a pun on the name of the village.
The connection with the venerable saint, who is credited with converting England to Christianity, was probably invented by the monks of Cerne Abbey to attract pilgrims.
Another legend, probably closer to actual history, says that St. Edwold (a royal-turned-hermit who settled here in the 800s) had a vision of a silver well. He went walking through the countryside until he came to Cerne, where he gave a shephered some silver in return for bread and water. To provide the latter, the shepherd showed Edwold the well, and the saint recognized it from his vision. He built a small hermitage near the well and lived there until his death in 871.
Whichever saint originally recognized the sacredness of the well, it was covered by a chapel for centuries, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Until quite recently, the water of St. Augustine's Well was still used by the villagers as drinking water. It is still generally fit to drink, especially in the spring when water rushes through it.
St. Augustine's Well is located in a peaceful area next to the burial ground of Cerne Abbey. A modern stone altar stands next to the well itself. The site makes a fine place for relaxation and reflection.
A variety of legends and lore associated with the well have developed over the years, including the belief that drinking the water helps cure fertility. As the water is full of iron, it probably does. The well was also used by girls wishing for marriage, who turned around three times as they prayed to St. Catherine for a husband. Local lore also has it that if you look into the well on Easter, you will see reflected in the water the faces of those who will die that year.
Quick Facts on St. Augustine's Well
|Names:||Silver Well · St. Augustine's Well|
|Categories:||sacred waters; healing sites|
|Dedication:||St. Augustine of Canterbury|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.810506° N, 2.474614° W|
|Address:||Cerne Abbas, England|
|Lodging:||View hotels near St. Augustine's Well|
- Personal visit (November 2006); sign posted on Cerne Abbey wall.
Map of St. Augustine's Well, Cerne Abbas
Below is a location map and aerial view of St. Augustine's Well. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.