‘...and there is a Well below the Town in a wood, called by the name of the Saint, to which there is great resort on Easter Day in the morning, and it is said to have marvellous Virtues’.
Fenton ‘Tours in Wales’ (1804-13)
Somewhat forgotten now, its history and importance much debated, Ffynnon Mihangel is a curiosity. Difficult to get to, a scramble and a flailing of arms to reach, essentially the well is a collection of springs which come together in a basin of natural limestone and create a small stream, the Afon Mihangel which flows through Coed Maes Mynan, establishing the parish boundary between Caerwys and Bodfari. Edward Lhyud mentions the nearby Ffynnon Fedw as being part of the annual Rogationtide procession, re-establishing the parish boundaries, and it is clear that Ffynnon Mihangel’s importance, at least in part, was also as a boundary marker. During the 1730s, the Mostyns were involved in a dispute with the Myddletons of Chirk and Ruthin over the ownership of Maes Mynan lands, and possibly as a consequence, the first estate map of the area was produced by the celebrated topographical artist, Thomas Badeslade in 1742. This map clearly shows Ffynnon Mihangel, suggesting that the well was considered an important aspect of confirming the Mostyn’s lands.
But was it holy? While it is possible that Ffynnon Fedw was simply a reliable source of water that was also a convenient territorial marker, and there continues to be a robust argument on this matter, Lhuyd is clear that things were very different at Ffynnon Mihangel, the waters of which he claims were a cure for sore eyes and warts on the hands, all for the price of a thrown pin. Further, it’s dedication to St Michael could well be an indication of real importance, since there are nearby wells at Cilcain and Trelawnyd which are also dedicated to Michael, and a rock, upon which St Mary’s Chapel now sits near to St Beuno’s at Tremeirchion which was also dedicated to St Michael. Michael was venerated as a healer, and so it would seem a little curious that more wells are not dedicated to him. There was and indeed is a local tradition that a niche in the rock face above the well contained an image of St Michael, and an even more curious tradition that the well was the site of an appearance of the archangel. Gary-Hulse makes a compelling case for there being a localised cult of St Michael, and given the wealth of stubborn tradition, this seems entirely possible. If so, this is a well of some considerable power and prestige, part of its mystery being its apparent obscurity.
Perhaps this accounts for the persistent belief that there was once a chapel at the site. Writing in 1828, William Cathrall states that,
‘In a wood near the town is a well called St Michael’s, close to a very romantic rock on which a Roman Catholic Chapel is supposed to have once been situated, and concerning which some superstitious ideas are still entertained; as persons go early on Easter morning to drink the rock water mixed with sugar’.
William Cathrall, ‘A History of North Wales’ Vol. II (1828)
It is not clear from where this idea originated, but Lhuyd, writing over a hundred years earlier says nothing of a chapel, and the Royal Commission, investigating the site in the early 20th century saw no evidence of a building, ruinous or otherwise. There is certainly nothing at the site at present, or even nearby that would suggest a building was ever raised.
The site is utterly beautiful, serene and genuinely moving in aspect. It is not hard to gain a sense of the holy. Ffynnon Mihangel is a genuine curiosity, potentially the heart of a localised cult of St Michael, entwined in the archangel’s connection to healing, and rocks and caves. It is possible that Ffynnon Mihangel is one of the most important holy wells in Wales, hidden away in woodland in Coed Maes Mynan.