There is little to tie St Beuno to Tremeirchion, but the impressive holy well is dedicated to the 6th century British abbot, confessor and saint. There is no doubt that he has had a tremendous impact on the village, since the nearby Jesuit college and retreat, St Beuno's Ignatian Spirituality Centre took his name on its foundation in 1848, considered something of an unusual choice at the time. There is a suggestion that a pupil of Beuno built a foundation here, which is entirely possible given his influence.
Much of what we know of Beuno comes from a collection of 14th century Welsh scripts, although a lot of what is written is clearly coloured by an antipathy towards the English. They tell us that he was born in around AD 545 to Bugi ap Gwynllyw and Peren, a daughter of King Lot Luwddoc of Gododdin, in the ancient Kingdom of Powys, probably on the modern Denbighshire, Flintshire border. His early years were spent at Caerwent where he entered holy orders. The next few years were spent at Llanfeuno, in Herefordshire where he founded a religious institution. On hearing that his father was ill, he left Llanfeuno in the hands of three of his disciples and returned to Powys, ensuring that his father died in the good graces of the Lord. While there he created a religious foundation, and planted an acorn by his father’s grave. It grew into a mighty oak, with one branch growing down to the ground, creating a sort of arch. It was said of this arch that, ‘if an Englishman should pass between this branch and the trunk of the tree, he would immediately die; but should a Welshman go, he would in no way suffer’. This does not sound particularly Christian in truth, nor would any Saxon in the 6th century have considered themselves English, but it’s a cracking story.
Beuno then set up another foundation at Berriew, but left after seeing ‘Englishmen’ hunting across the Severn, believing that this was a sign of a near future invasion. He spent time at Meifod with St Tysilio, and then to Gwyddelwern, after being granted lands by Cynan Gawyn. The church there is dedicated to the Saint. It is said that it was at Gwyddelwern that he raised an Irishman from the dead, the first of seven resurrections he undertook. It was thought that the name of the village took its name from this act (‘Gwyddel’ means Irishman in the Welsh tongue), although this has been challenged. There is a little bit of a theme happening here, since Beuno seems to have left Gwyddelwern in anger, having fallen out with Cynan’s grandsons.
He returned to Flintshire, where he agreed to teach his niece, Gwenfrewy (otherwise known as St Winefride). Secretly she decided to take holy orders, much to the fury of her suitor, Caradog, who promptly decapitated her. Gwenfrewy’s head is said to have rolled down a hill, and where it came to rest a spring appeared. Beuno replaced Gwenfrewy’s head on her shoulders and miraculously she was returned to life. The spot at which the spring appeared has since become one of the most celebrated and holy wells in Britain, St Winefride’s at Holywell.
Whilst in Gwynedd, Beuno fell out with its king, Cadwallon, after discovering that the land he had been given for a church was actually owned by someone else. After cursing Cadwallon, a cousin of the king offered Beuno his own lands of Clynnog, so fearful was he of Beuno’s curse. It is at Clynnog in Gwynedd that Beuno is buried, and by the church that is far too big for the village it stands in, there is another holy well dedicated to Beuno.
As for Ffynnon Beuno at Tremeirchion, it is largely situated within the grounds of a home, rebuilt at the end of the 20th century after the original derelict building dating to around 1560 collapsed. The building was used as a tavern in the 19th century. It was rebuilt to the original design as far as possible. The spring rises almost in the house itself, into a large rectangular tank measuring roughly 10 feet by 18 feet, with two steps descending into the waters. The tank fills to about three feet in depth before overflowing through the wall and through the famous stone head on the outside of the wall surrounding the waters. From this basin the waters are drained away underground, although the steps that lead down into it suggest that at one time it to was used for immersion.
The larger tanks would suggest a very real importance, probably used as a bathing pool. Curious then, that there is little evidence that the well had any healing quantities. There is no written records of anyone, in fact, being healed by the waters, though there are written records suggesting that the well did not have healing properties. That controversial personage, Henry Morton Stanley, Denbigh born and St Asaph raised, lived for some time at Tremeirchion and states in his autobiography, quite plainly that the well had, ‘no virtues beyond purity and sweetness’. It is likely that he would have heard of traditions concerning the well, should those traditions have existed. And before Stanley, Thomas Pennant makes mention of the Church and indeed the Rood of Grace, but nothing of the well. And before Pennant, Dr. Johnson – nothing. Was it then a baptismal font? What explanation can be given for the size, which by any opinion is too large for a simple trough.
And the stone head is fascinating. There is an air of the terribly ancient about it, the fearsomely pagan. Stanley called it, ‘a rude representation of a human head’, and he is quite right to have done so. Who is it? What is it? It has often been thought of as being representative of a Celtic head cult, and why not? Truthfully, it is as possible as many other suggestions. Given Beuno’s miraculous reattachment of his niece’s head, could it be St Winefride? What of Beuno himself? Truth is, we will likely as never know. The lack of written records is a pain, since other than Morton’s references, there is no earlier references to the well, or how it looked, or what it was for, if anything? Many have chosen to view this as evidence of its lack of importance, and perhaps with good reason, but on the other hand…