Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Ending the year in Binsey

Today a walk in watery sunlight to St Fridewide's well in Binsey. The well, known for its healing powers, has been glorified. Someone has hung ribbons from the surrounding yew trees with strings of white plastic doves, miniature glass panels with holy images, and spruce cones. It looks a bit like Cornelia Parker's Shed. Since 'treacle' originally referred to an antidote against venom (from Greek theriake), the well surely sparked the Dormouse's improbable story in Alice in Wonderland:

'Once upon a time there were three little sisters,' the Dormouse began in a great hurry; 'and their names were Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie; and they lived at the bottom of a well—'

'What did they live on?' said Alice, who always took a great interest in questions of eating and drinking.

'They lived on treacle,' said the Dormouse, after thinking a minute or two.

'They couldn't have done that, you know,' Alice gently remarked; 'they'd have been ill.'

'So they were,' said the Dormouse; 'very ill.'

Alice tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary ways of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: 'But why did they live at the bottom of a well?'

....The Dormouse again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, 'It was a treacle-well.'

'There's no such thing!' Alice was beginning very angrily, but the Hatter and the March Hare went 'Sh! sh!' and the Dormouse sulkily remarked, 'If you can't be civil, you'd better finish the story for yourself.'

'No, please go on!' Alice said very humbly; 'I won't interrupt again. I dare say there may be one.'

'One, indeed!' said the Dormouse indignantly.

Frideswide was an Anglo-Saxon princess, betrothed to the Mercian King Algar. She fled from him and he, pursuing, was struck blind. In her compassion she prayed for the restoration of his vision, curing him with water from the Binsey well. Frideswide dedicated the well to St Margaret of Antioch, who was also a model of chastity.

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