A special stone is located near a spring near a chapel near La-Roche-en-Ardenne in Belgium. People still place crosses around the well and patches hang from a nearby tree. Many young parents have their children baptized in the Chapel of Saint Thibaut to receive the blessings of the Saint. After praying at the chapel, people wash their faces with the water from the spring.
The spring never runs dry, the water flows in a flat stone with openings that resemble bowls. When you drink Montaigu Nectar, you ingest the water from this spring. It is a sweet brandy with raspberries, diluted with the water from the source.
The counts of Montaigu have lived in their castle on this site since the 11th century, descended from the Normans. The source with its special stone can be found near the Ermitage of Saint Thibaut, a pilgrim and hermit who died in 1066 and was canonized in 1073. In the period from the 11th to the 17th century, a cult developed around the Saint Thibaut (or also Saint Theobaldus of Provins). As hermits he cured people of their ailments, usually in case of nervous disorders, fever and blindness and these miracles became known everywhere.
Although the castle of the counts of Montaigu was destroyed, a chapel was built in 1639. Pilgrims continued to come to the source. After two major miracles obtained thanks to the miraculous waters of this source, a large cross was erected in the ruins of the castle (1608). People went barefoot in circles three, six or nine times around the cross that was placed in honor of Saint Thibaut. The numbers of pilgrims continued to grow, after which it was decided to build another chapel.
At Virton, there is also a stone similar to the stone at the well of Saint Thibaut. The name Virton is derived from Vertunum, the Celtic name for “well-defended hill”. It is the southernmost city in Belgium. This stone is said to be the footprint of Pas Bayard (the steed Beiaard). The discovery of a plaque commemorating Mars Ianus, fragments of two other votive inscriptions, two column bases with serpent-footed giants, and an altar suggest that there was once an important shrine at Vertunum.
Pas Bayard or the ros Beiaard is a legendary elf horse that appears in many songs from the Christian Middle Ages. The texts attribute magical qualities and a supernatural origin to the horse.
There are many versions of the story that differ from each other, one of the most famous is about the adventures related to Charlemagne. King Charlemagne gives the horse to Renaud de Montauban, the eldest of four brothers. Known for his strength and intelligence, Bayard has the power to carry all four men on his back at the same time, allowing them to escape the king’s later wrath.
Delivered as a promise of peace, Bayard was ordered by Charlemagne to be thrown with a millstone around his neck to the bottom of the Rhine (or Meuse according to folklore and later literary versions).
Bayard manages to escape and, according to legend, has since then continued to wander in the Ardennes Forest, from where his whinnies resound at each summer solstice.
This horse, probably the most famous of the Middle Ages, seems to date back to pagan beliefs that predate most texts in which the horse appears. Henri Dontenville sees in Bayard a name derived from “Bélénique”, that is to say that it can be associated with the Celtic god Bélénos (“shining”, “brilliant”, “bright”, “burning”, “magnificent”, “ shining” and also “strong powerful”), a Gallic god. The god is related to spring, waters and springs.
It often happens that important stones, such as sacrificial stones, can be found near a source or are considered to be a source. In many cases these stones and/or springs are still visited and are seen as medicinal or sacred.
St. Aid of Áed mac Bricc was bishop of Killare in the 6th century at Rahugh of Ráith Aeda Meic Bric, an early Christian site founded by the saint in a ráth or ringfort. An episode in the life of Áed mac Bricc, in which he cures Brigit of a headache, is reflected in the ninth-century Irish life of Brigit. A stone close to the existing church is still associated with healing headaches, there is also a well near where sacrifices are made.
At the birth of Saint Aid, his head had hit a stone, creating a hole that collected rainwater that cured all ailments and because of this, the stone was identified with the tradition of bullaun stones. In Irish it is a bullán or bollán. The name is related to the word bowl and French bol. Bullaun stones have depressions that are often filled with water.
Local folklore often attaches religious or magical significance to bullaun stones, such as the belief that the rainwater that collects in a stone’s cavity has healing properties. Bullaun stones are found in Ireland. Two bullauns have also been found in Scotland. They later became known as Butterlumps.
Dromagorteen’s bullaun is directly adjacent to a Fulacht Fia. A Fulacht Fia can be translated as “burnt mound”, in England also known as Burnt Mound and in Scandinavia these structures are known as Skärvstenshögar. Fulacht Fias are interpreted as the remains of breweries, cooking places, textile production facilities or saunas.
The original purpose of the bullauns is unknown, but they have an undeniable connection with water and the worship of Brigid or Brigit: a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland and member of the Tuatha Dé Danann (the people of the goddess Danu). Her name is interpreted as “the bright one”, “the shining one” or “the warrior”.
Imbolc is dedicated to this goddess of light. It is one of the four major festivals of the pre-Christian Celtic calendar associated with the fertility of the earth. Imbolc means ‘in the belly’, which refers to pregnancy or conception (birth occurs at a different time, during the festival of Beltane). Imbolc is traditionally celebrated on the eve of February 1.
Brigid is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, blacksmithing and domesticated animals. Cormac’s glossary, written in the 9th century by Christian monks, says that Brigid was “the goddess worshiped by poets” and that she had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the blacksmith.
This suggests that she was a triple deity. Also called Bríg, Bríde or Brighde, she is associated with the British Celtic goddess Brigantia.
Decorating the well or well, tying strips of cloth around trees at healing springs, and other methods of beseeching or honoring Brigid are still prevalent in Celtic areas. In Scotland these wells are known as ‘Clootie Wells’, sometimes dedicated to saints other than Saint Brigid and in pre-Christian times to a goddess or local nature spirit. There is almost always a tree next to the source, the Clootie Tree. The sites were historically visited before sunrise and on holy festival days.
As one of the most popular goddesses worshiped by Celtic peoples, including the Druids, many of Brigid’s stories and symbols survive in the character of Saint Brigid.
Saint Brigid is venerated in churches all over Ireland and she gives her name to many a village ‘Kilbride’, which literally means ‘Church of Brigid’. Imbolc was later incorporated into Irish Christianity as Saint Brigid’s Day with the highlight of the festival being the Roman Catholic Candlemas.
Saint Brigid was given land to set up her monastery in Kildare. The story goes that the local chieftain would only give her the land covered by her cloak. Then she spread her cloak on the floor. The shocked chieftain watched as the cloak miraculously began to spread.
The chieftain begged her to stop it for fear of losing all his lands. She did so and the land under her cloak became the land for her monastery. Another story tells that the ground was leveled by her spreading mantle to form the Kildare plain known as the Curragh.
For centuries, pilgrims visit the Holy Well in the churchyard on Faughart Hill, believed to be the birthplace of Saint Brigid, and they also visit Saint Brigid’s Stream (where a series of penances are performed). The stones have signs associated with the story of Brigid. Like the way she tried to escape from a lover. She pulled out one of her eyes to make herself less attractive.
The stones have names that can be translated as the kneeling stone, the hoof stone, the waist stone, and the eye stone (the stone that healed the eye that took them out).
It is believed that the stones have the power to cure certain ailments. At the old stations, numbers 6 to 10, there are some very old-looking stones. Station 6 is called the Hoof Stone (Cloch na Crúibe or horseshoe stone), a horseshoe shape can be seen in it. Station 7, known as the Kneeling Stone, is actually a double bullaun stone. The stone at Station 8 (The Waist Stone) appears to be a mushroom stone, its shape being caused by water erosion and by the pilgrims rubbing it. Station 9 could cure eye problems and station 10 (Headstone) has a bowl with white circle around it.
Saint Brigid died on February 1, 525 and this date is still celebrated as Saint Brigid’s Day.
The holiday and eve of this day, Saint Brigid’s Eve, is surrounded by various customs and rituals. Sean O Suilleabhain, the archivist of the National Folklore Collection, recorded many pilgrimages to sacred springs, sacred streams and ruins for Saint Brigid.
The traditions of the feast are included in both the National Folklore Collection (NFC) and the Schools Collection.
For example, it is customary to hang a cloth or ribbon outside before sunrise to catch dew. It was especially useful for head pain such as headaches, earaches or toothaches. A symbolic extra place may be arranged for the visiting saint or a bed of straw may be prepared for her. These places are inspected in the morning to look for the traces of the bride’s wand or especially the woman’s footprints. This seems to point to Christian-Pagan synchronism.
During the festivities, Brigid was usually represented by a doll, dressed in white, with a crystal on her chest. This doll, usually a Corn Dolly, was carried in procession by girls who were also dressed in white. Sometimes it involved dressing part of a churn (a household item used by our ancestors in the production of butter) as an effigy of the saint. Other materials are also used to make Brigid’s doll.
The most famous is Brigid’s Cross (also known as Cros Bríde, Crosóg Bríde or Bogha Bríde). These crosses are usually made of straw or rushes. Families gathered rushes on January 31, the eve of Brigid’s feast day. After an evening feast, the head of the household supervised the rest of the family as they wove crosses from the collected material. These crosses were left out at night to receive Brigid’s blessing and crosses were hung in the main residence, outbuildings and stables on February 1.
The exact shape of a Brigid’s Cross varies greatly. The National Museum of Ireland has identified seven basic categories of crosses: the diamond type (which is divided into single or multiple), the “swastika” type (with four or three arms), the wheel type, the interlaced type, the traditional Latin cross made of straw or rushes, bare wooden crosses in Latin or Greek style tied with straw and a category of “miscellaneous”.
The Biddy Boys are a group of men who dress up in straw hats and women’s clothes and go through houses with a straw doll or Brideog, also called Biddy. They demand entry into the house and entertain the residents with music and song, then demand a reward. A short documentary from 1965 can be seen here. A local man, Mr. O’Siochru, outlines the traditions related to the Biddy Boys, the dolls and costume and the Brideog are traditionally made here with their grandmothers’ hair. A Brideog is also formed by a carved turnip that is painted with soot or the doll is made of rags.
The tradition of the Biddy boys is largely confined to South Kerry, parts of County Cork, County Kildare and County Fermanagh.
More generally, children are going around the houses nowadays. Just as in the Netherlands children go around the houses and sing songs with Sint Maarten, there are also rhymes with St. Brigid’s Day:
“Here comes poor Brigid both deaf and blind,
Put your hand in your pocket and give her a coin
If you haven’t a penny, a half penny will do
If you haven’t a halfpenny god bless you”
“Something for poor Biddy
Her Clothes are torn
Her shoes are worn
Something for poor Biddy
Here is Brigit dressed in white
Give her a penny for her tonight
She is deaf, she is dumb
She cannot talk without a tongue
For Gods sake, give her some”
Pancakes are traditionally eaten on Saint Brigid’s Eve. There was an abundance of butter and milk on the table and oats (or cake) thrown at the door. There used to be no ceilings in the houses so it was customary to fix the Brigid’s Cross to the inside of the reeds and new ones were added year after year. If they could no longer be preserved, they should not be thrown away under any circumstances. They had to either be buried (to give a blessing to the crops) or burned in the fire.
There was a tradition in parts of Antrim of the excess rushes being formed into a ring and hung on the spinning wheel to bring a blessing on the work for the coming year.
Saint Brigid is buried in a tomb in the abbey she founded in Kildare. Her remains were later moved to Downpatrick to make it safe from the Scandinavian raids. There she was buried with Ireland’s other patron saints, St. Patrick and St. Columcille.
Sometimes you have to look for the place where Saint Brigid knelt and left imprints of her knees in the rock. There are many Saint Brigid wells and offerings are left here. This often involves rags and ribbons around the source. Traditionally, rags were used to wash the affected part of the body with water from the well and then tied to the tree or bush. As the patch worsened, the pain faded. In some parts of Ireland, if the rag is tied to the tree, the tree itself would take the pain of the pilgrim…
At St Brigit’s Stone, in County Cavan, there are still cursing stones in the hollows. These stones are also known as curing stones (healing stones) or turn stones. These stones would be used by turning them over while praying for someone or cursing someone.
Some of the larger bullauns on the stone near Feaghna’s graveyard bear oval stones known as curse stones or healing stones. It has been noted that the graveyard boundary wall and the bullaun stone are directly aligned with the rising sun at the winter solstice. Mr and Mrs SC Hall, in their book Hall’s Ireland (1841), give one of the earliest accounts, referring to this stone as the “Petrified Dairy”. Today this stone is known as “The Rolls of Butter”.
In the center of the boulder is a round stone with a very phallic looking stone standing upright in the hole. This would represent the lid and churn. According to tradition, a local woman who stole milk from a neighbour’s cow was using the stone to make butter when Saint Fiachna came across her. The saint became enraged and petrified her butter buns, churn top/churn lid and dasher, all of which can be viewed at the site today. The staff used in the churn is known as the dash, dasher, dasher staff, churn staff, churn stick, plunger, plumper, or kirn staff.
He then pursued the woman to a nearby river where she suffered a similar fate. She still stands, like a great upright stone, in the land of Gearhangoul. The stone stands next to a bush that sprouted from a buairicín (wooden buckle) at the end of a short rope, which she carried to tie up the cows. She was petrified as a punishment by the saint, intended as a warning to sinners.
Saint Fiachna’s curse on the poor unfortunate woman may well lend credence to the view of some antiquarians that the Bullaún stone and its eight spherical pebbles are in fact ancient curse stones. Curse stones are known to be associated with early Christian sites. The Bullaún Stone clearly dates from pre-Christian times and is believed to have been used by the Druids for ceremonial purposes. It is said that the druids turned the curse stones against King Cormac MacAirt when he adopted the Christian faith.
The ritual use of some bullaun stones continued well into the Christian period and many are found at early churches, such as the Deer Stone in Glendalough, County Wicklow. The ‘Deer Stone’ is located next to the main ecclesiastical settlement in Glendalough. It is located on the south side of the Glenealo River, directly across from the ruins of the Church of St. Ciarán.
According to legend, the wife of one of Saint Kevin’s workmen died giving birth to twins. The workman came to the saint to ask for help. Saint Kevin promised to solve the problem and after praying to God for help, a doe came to a certain place and poured milk into a hollow in a stone every day (while the workman sat on a nearby boulder). According to legend, the man’s fingerprints caused the hollow in the boulder that came to be known as the “Deer Stone”.
Glendalough was a place of pilgrimage from the time of St. Kevin’s death and pilgrimage is mentioned sporadically throughout the Early and Late Middle Ages. After the Reformation, pilgrimage continued in the valley and the main burst of pilgrimage activity centered on the feast day of St. Kevin on June 3. Like patron day celebrations elsewhere in Ireland, St. Kevin’s day in Glendalough was a mix of pious devotion and boisterous merriment, involving food and drink, dancing and some fighting.
In 1862 an attempt was made to end the party. The clerics believed that the secular elements discredited the religion and that the religious devotions, such as walking around barefoot or crawling on bare knees, were backward and superstitious. Bullaun Stones and Sacred Wells played a central part of Glendalough’s 19th-century pilgrimage landscape. The Deer Stone was one of many devotional stations for pilgrims.
In 1873, the Deer Stone was described by William Wilde as follows: “The Deer Stone was visited by strangers and pilgrims and was always found to contain water.” Fitzgerald wrote in 1906: It is said that there is a cure obtained from the water contained in the cavity of “Deer Stone.” To be effective it must be visited before sunrise on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the same week and on each occasion part of the ceremony is to huddle around it seven times on bare knees with appropriate prayers.
There is a holy well and a holy stone in Grallagh churchyard. They are associated with St. MacCuillins, but also with St. Michael. The well is located in a small stone well house, but has been dry since a farmer carried out drainage work in a nearby pasture.
Outside the cemetery wall (next to the entrance) is a large boulder known as the Saint’s stone. There is a hole through this stone and apparently you have to lie on your back and put your hand through the hole. This seems to be a remedy for back pain.
Lady’s Well is near Holystone. The source is associated with the Anglo-Saxon Saint Ninian. He was a Celtic bishop who, according to some sources, was the first Christian missionary in Scotland, and converted a large number of Celts to Christianity. According to legend, the saint baptized many early Christians in the holy water of Lady’s Well. It was a watering place along the Roman road leading to the fort of Bremenium (High Rochester) in Redesdale. It took its present form in Roman or medieval times and a wall was built around it. People used to throw pins and coins into the well to bring good luck.
The village is called Holystone (holy stone) and not Holywell (holy spring). The name is sometimes thought to derive from the Drake Stone at Harbottle a little further down the valley. Another possible explanation is that Paulinus knelt on a flat stone – known as the Sacred Stone – on the east side of the water source. Others say that the Sacred Stone is now the stone base that supports the statue of St. Paulinus. The well is said to have been one of the places where the Roman missionary Paulinus baptized thousands of local people in 627 during the reign of the Northumbrian King Edwin, but the connection to Paulinus is now considered a historical error.
In the Middle Ages, the well was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The powerful spring that feeds the water basin provides the water supply for the village of Holystone. The well feeding the well would produce 560 gallons of water every minute. This is just over 2119 litres, 1 gallon is 3.79 liters. A stone cross, placed in the center during Victorian times, adds to the mystery.
In County Kerry, a bullaun stone, recognized as a sacred spring, is now enclosed in its own ivy-covered stone enclosure on the side of the Cloonalassan road to Castlemaine. Offerings are still being left behind. The stone is associated with the healing of eyes. This may be due to the connection with Mochuda or Mo Chutu (aka St. Carthage).
Mochuda performed many great miracles, he cured the king of Munster from blindness and he was also deaf and dumb. Mochuda prayed to God for him and put the sign of the Holy Cross on his eyes, ears and mouth and the king was healed from all his distress and trouble. In a book on folklore, the stone is mentioned:
There is an old ruined church near my uncle’s house. Three priests are buried in the middle of the old ruin. A great light can be seen there on a dark winter night. A ruin of the city can also be seen. It’s called Clounalassan. It is probably one of the fortresses of Fingen Macuda’s father. Not far from the ruin is a stone called the Sacred Stone. People come to this stone to heal and leave rags on a tree next to it. People say that if someone took the rags in your hands, that person would get the disease that the owner of the rags had. This stone is called Cloc Moc and is located in the footpath leading to the presbytery. The people usually come to this stone before dawn and bring a bottle of water from a nearby spring. They then say three or four rosaries and wash their eyes with the water.
There is another Cloch Mochuda (or Cloc Mo Cuda) in Earl Kerry, this one is near Killarney and is also called Cuddy’s Well. It is a double bullaun and the story goes that St. Mochuda lived on the island of Innisifallen when he was distracted by birdsong. He followed the chirping and eventually fell asleep under a tree. He slept for 200 years and left the imprints of his knees.
A long, long time ago, a monk lived in the monastery of Innisfallen. He went for a walk every day. One day, while teaching in the school, he told the students that he would come back and say the Angelus with them. He went off and was not far away when he was attracted by the song of a robin. The music was so delightful that he followed the robin, and when he had traveled about four miles after the bird, he heard the Angelus bell ring. He knelt down to tell Angelus, and he was so tired that he fell asleep. He stayed there for almost two hundred years and when he woke up, the place had completely changed. The imprint of his two knees remained on the stone, which is why they called it Cloc Mo Cuda.
There are actually three bullauns: the third is on a different slab just behind the double bullaun and must be where Mochuda rested his forehead as told in a story:
Everything seemed changed. He did not know the monk who opened the door and the monk did not know him. The monk asked him his name and he told him. Then the monk remembered the story he had heard about the other monk who got lost a hundred years earlier. He believed that this monk was the long lost monk. He lived with the young monks and after a while he died. The imprints of his two knees and forehead are on the rock. They are always filled with water. They never dry even on the hottest day in the summer.
The bullaun is also used to grant wishes. There is a custom to bring water to fill the bullauns and to bring bread for the robin. The tradition surrounding Cloc Mo Cuda says that if the robin appears, your request will be granted.
The painting that is placed at the beginning of this article shows a spring that is still important. The appearance of the source and the environment have changed enormously. The big stone on the hill has disappeared. An old photo shows an image of the saint, which has now been shielded by glass. A recent photo shows stones being placed around the mound. And the corridor to the source is full of other sacrifices.
There are traditions from many parts of Ireland and Great Britain where stones are moved but returned to their original position. An example of such a ‘Homing stone’ is St Brigid’s Church in Lough Hyne, Co Cork. There, about 150 feet northeast of the church, is a piece of a broken pillar measuring about 18 x 15 inches with an incised cross. One day it was taken by a fisherman who brought it to his house, but the next morning he found it had disappeared and it was found in its original place. The fisherman drowned shortly afterwards and everyone knew that he had been punished for removing this sacred stone…
More examples of moving stones or stones that should not be moved can be found in Moving stones and spinners and more examples of the punishment that befell people can be found in Petrification. Christianized stones, Horseshoe shapes and megaliths, Dolmen and fairies in France and Marriages and megaliths. In Stories about sacrificial stones, several stones are mentioned that are also associated with water and usually show cups or bowls. In more places in Europe, stones are associated with bread and/or butter, sometimes the attributes appear in the stories that are told around the stone and sometimes because people put butter in the cups as an offering. Examples are given in Megaliths in the moonlight, The devil and dolmens at Vehrte, Stories about sacrificial stones – 2 and Who built the megaliths on the Iberian Peninsula?.
Finds of stone altars near a well, and of offerings, indicate that there were already sacred wells around the Neolithic age, around which an animistic cult existed. Today there are 3,000 sacred springs in Ireland, more than anywhere else. Usually they are now dedicated to a saint. These sources are also found in Belgium and France, perhaps Lourdes is the best known.
Lourdes has become a focal point of devotion to the Virgin Mary. Since the alleged apparitions of this saint, many people have claimed to be healed by drinking or bathing in the spring’s water and the Lourdes authorities provide it free to anyone who asks. Protestantism rejected the veneration of saints and so holy wells fell into disrepair in Protestant regions. Nevertheless, remnants of sacred wells can still be found in the Netherlands.
This is a translation of a Dutch article, sources can be found in that article: Heilige stenen en miraculeuze bronnen