Kemsing in Kent is a picturesque little village just on the outskirts of Sevenoaks and within the shadow of Seal Chart. My Paternal Grandparents are buried just 2 or 3 minutes away in the neighboring village of Seal at the church of St Paul and St Peter. This whole area holds a special fondness in my heart as not only was it the stomping ground of my father’s family but I too spent many of my school boy summers here learning to horse ride and it was my Aunt, who still lives on the chart today, who taught me how to cook and inspired my love of gardening. It’s not really surprising then that I should stumble upon the Well of St Edith which sits discretely hidden behind low walls in the very center of Kemsing Village.
Kemsing was the birthplace of St Edith (better known today as St Edith of Wilton). She was the illegitimate daughter of the Saxon King, Edgar the 1st. St. Edith’s Hall stands within a stone’s throw of the holy well and a statue of Edith still stands before it beneath a clock which is inscribed with words which could be spoken by old Saturn himself:
Each passing hour to tell.
To use it ill or well.
The Well is keyhole shaped (doorway to the underworld?) and immaculately cared for. When I first discovered the Well towards the end of last summer the walls of the well were somewhat garishly decorated however upon my most recent visit to the well shortly after Candlemas I was surprised to see the well seemingly forgotten and desolate within the drifts of melting snow. Down in the depths the well appears dry, whether it is ever full and flowing I do not know. Perhaps with a little attention and traditional veneration the spirit of this Holy Well will one day send forth the clear bubbling waters from deep within the dark earth? A lowly crafter such as me can but try, a small posy of white roses and white carnations to symbolise purity tied with a small length of pale blue ribbon to symbolise innocence was an albeit simple yet fitting offering for the pious and youthful spirit of a place such as this.
A notice by the well says “”St. Edith of Kemsing 961-984. This well lay within the precincts of the convent where St. Edith, daughter of King Edgar, passed her childhood, hallowed by her presence its waters became a source of healing.” Legend says that the waters were used to heal all manner of eye complaints, probably owing to the fact that Edith dreamt that she lost her right eye and believed the dream was sent to warn her of the death of her half-brother King Edward. Edward was in fact murdered that same day. Could this possibly be a left over belief that the powers of the deep waters can bless those who drink them with the gift of foresight? Unfortunately these very waters have themselves vanished from plain sight, I hope this is due only to the unseasonably dry months previous… it would have been good to sample some and take a small bottle away for later use.
Kemsing Parish Church is also Saxon in origin yet despite being built in the birthplace of St Edith, the church is in fact dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, maybe owing to the fact that Kemsing became a popular stopover for the pilgrims travelling to the Shrine of Sir Thomas at Canterbury Cathedral along the famous Pilgrims Way, it therfore needed to have a more regal dedication? Either way the energy here is feminine to say the least, perfect for a late Candlemas stroll!
Following her death in 984, Edith became the patron saint of Wilton Abbey and churches were dedicated to her all over parts of Britain but primarily in Wiltshire.
Visiting places like this make me incredibly proud to be a Kentish Man (not a man of Kent…there is a difference!) and despite holding a special place in my heart for the likes of Glastonbury, St Edith’s makes me realise that actually there are places all over the British Isles, some much closer to home which hold all the magic that Glastonbury boasts…the waters are after all connected somewhere deep within the Earth.
Stay tuned for more on Kent’s Holy Wells… there are more…just waiting to be discovered!