In the heart of England, there lies a valley called the Golden Valley.
It is a very nice valley. Green fields dotted with sheep, hemmed by hedgerows. And in the Golden Valley sits a mediaeval church. St Peter’s, Petersfield, has recently been ‘re-ordered’- the church left intact but community rooms built within, in structures sat on the old stone floor.
And I have no way of knowing if the eel survived the re-ordering.
I do hope he did.
Peterchurch, sitting in the Golden Valley, appropriately also has a Golden Well. I know it’s there because it’s marked on the Ordinance Survey map. But what was once a very important holy well which attracted pilgrims and was renowned for healing, has all but disappeared from view.
Ella Leather – a folklorist who documented Herefordshire’s old sites – recorded the well as a bathing pool where those with rheumatic pains would come to rid themselves of their discomfort. But these days, the well has been filled with concrete. You have to turn off the Madley Road on the footpath to Wells Cottage, and keep your eyes peeled for the head of St Peter peering out of the undergrowth.
Still: the story goes that if you visited the well in mediaeval times, there was one sure sign you would be well again.
A friendly local eel – clad in a chain- would come and wrap itself round your legs. And once you stopped shuddering, you could go home and tell all your family that you were well again, because the eel said so.
In those days eel success rates league tables did not exist as they do today for the National Health Service, so we have no idea whether the eel healed many people. But a testament to his popularity spent centuries on the wall of St Peter’s Church; and may be still there today.
The portrait of the worthy local eel, complete with chain, hung high on the church wall for its beneficiaries to appreciate.
Was it the world’s first celebrity eel? Probably not. These strange creatures have a varied folkloric history which stretches way back.
But what a nice way to say thank you to a healing eel with a taste for bling.