Posted by: anna | April 9, 2010

St Alkeld

Today (27 March) we commemorate St Alkeld (Alcelda, Alkelda, Athilda, from Old English Hǣlcelde, “healing spring”). Alkeld is a good Yorkshire saint, with dedications at Middleham and Giggleswick, so I knew the name but – I had no idea she was a woman! (Update: Today I have learned…) or perhaps she was a fountain… Miss Dunbar writes:

‘St Alkalda, (Alkeld, Alkilda), a Saxon virgin, martyred by Danes. Represented in a window of the old church of Middleham, in Yorkshire, being strangled by two women. So little is known of her that some archiaeologists suppose there was no saint of this name, which means a fountain. St Alkeld’s Well is still believed to have healing virtues. Her church, at Giggleswick in Yorkshire, was founded in the 12th century.’

Well, it seems possible that this name does not denote a person at all – something like St Cross or St Saviour, it means simply ‘holy’. And I will have to make some investigations into the whole holy well phenomenon as well. There are so many of them, often associated with a particular saint, and often taken over from a preexisting pagan tradition. Perhaps there was a martyr associated with this well? And where does the odd ‘murdered by Danish women’ story come in? why would such an unusual detail (it’s not usually women who carry out the murderous Danes’ martyrdoms!) be added several centuries later? Whatever the case,

Holy St Alkelda, pray to God for us.

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