Thursday, 10 September 2015

Votive Rags from St Helen's Well, Thorp Arch near Boston Spa, West Yorkshire

Rag Strip 1884.140.331 .1
1884.140.331 is an example of the votive rags that were tied to a tree near a well. Oddly this item was not accessioned into the Pitt Rivers Museum collections until the 1990s though it had lain in the museum for over a hundred years by then.

The documentation the Museum has about these objects is as follows:
1884.140.331 Blue book entry - Idols and objects connected with religion Case 78 159 Fragments of rag used as votive offerings for the cure of diseases at St Helens Well Thorp Arch Yorkshire at the present time (2496)
Delivery Catalogue II entry - Religious emblems Votive rags on card 2496 13 Cases 225 226
Detailed Amulet card catalogue entry - Amulets D. Crop Fertility, E. Offerings to Gods etc F. Spirit Houses, Scares G. Sacred and Mem. food H. Relics and Mementos - Models of human body E3 Ex voto rags, pins etc Description: Votive rags from bushes at a holy well hung there by the country people who believe the water is good for eye diseases [insert] if [end insert] combined with an offering of this type to St Helen. They are often left by Roman Catholics being near Clifford where they are numerous Locality: St Helen's Well Thorp Church Yorks Collected by: Mrs Marianne Cooke 1869 How Acquired: PR coll 159 dd Mrs M. Cooke 1869 [sic]
This well was just off the Roman road, the Rudgate. This well was supposed to be devoted to St Helen. The site of the well is actually at Thorp Arch, outside Boston Spa near Wetherby in North Yorkshire. Ellen Ettlinger mentions the rags:

In pre-Christian days, when wells and trees were identified with spirits, offerings were deposited in their immediate neighbourhood to preserve the contact between the worshipper and the divinity. Since the spread of Christianity the real intention of this rite has been preserved only at those wells, where Christian Saints replaced the well spirit. 
This article extract is from England: The Other Within - Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum project website.

Alison Petch, 


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