Holy Wells have a long tradition in the spiritual life of people in Great Britain and Ireland. They are places where people have made pilgrimage for centuries seeking healing, forgiveness, or spiritual renewal from the waters. People would often leave a token of thanks, such as a coin dropped into the well or a cootie (a piece of cloth) tied to the branch of a nearby tree. Many wells were associated with a particular saint and on that saint’s feast day the first person to drink from the well, getting the cream of the well (a reference to skimming the cream off the top of milk), the best water that would bless the drinker with special favor and healing. Some of the wells continue to draw pilgrims, even with the growth in secularization.
Wells also have an important part to play in many Biblical stories, as places of meeting, often divinely inspired. Abraham’s servant found a wife (Rebecca) for Issac at a well in Nahor. Jacob met his wife, Rachel, at a well. Moses met his wife, Zipporah, at a well in Midian after fleeing Egypt. Perhaps the most well remembered story in scripture is Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at a well.
4 Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” -John 4:4-7
In the Bible the well ends up being a place for more than a drink of water. As we’ve seen, several ancient patriarchs ended up meeting their wives at wells and Jesus met a woman who would go on to be one of his early followers. These wells become a location for an encounter that goes on to have life changing ramifications. In particular the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman turns out to be life changing for her. In her conversation with Jesus she hears him tell her all about her life and in so doing he offers her living water, which after drinking she will never thirst again. She goes on to proclaim to everyone in town that she has met Jesus.
The living water Jesus offers her is equally offered to us all, for Jesus is the living water and all who place their faith in him have their life in him. In baptism we die to sin in his death and are raised to new life with Jesus in his resurrection. As the holy wells of Britain and Ireland have been places where people seek healing, forgiveness, and spiritual renewal, Jesus is the true and ultimate well for us and for all people. Unlike the holy wells where only the first to drink would get the “cream of the well” all who drink of Christ are recipients of his life. Thus we who have drank can go just as the Samaritan woman and invite others to come and drink. As Christians we are called not only to drink from the well that is Christ, but also to invite others to come and drink, showing them the way.
May we drink deeply of Christ the living water and then show others where to drink as well.