St Gennys, Cornwall
St Gennys near Crackington Haven on the north coast of Cornwall, UK is tucked away down a dead end lane. The medieval church is built into a slope and in spring the churchyard is a riot of primroses, celandines and daffodils.
This is thought to be another early Christian Celtic site and the presence of two holy wells points in this direction.
The first well we found is tucked away down a narrow path behind the church tower and by a rocky face. It was locked and rather gloomy but an inscription suggested it was St Genny’s well from the 6th century. However many think this is not the really ancient well but the other one is.
The second well is located just to the right of the main path into the church, in the garden of The Old School House holiday cottages. We asked permission and the owners were more than happy for us to look at the well. This is a traditional stone well house with a curved roof tucked into the bank and surrounded by daffodils. It had an iron grate but you could see the water was full and flowing.
It’s not entirely clear who St Genny was except an early Celtic Christian, possibly from South Wales, who came to this sheltered site to spread the gospel. He probably settled because of the spring and to be sheltered from the fierce Atlantic winds. There was a Christian presence here around 650AD possibly earlier. It was used for the baptism of converts, as well as drinking. There is a link to the monastery at St Kew where St Gennys is referred to as Sanguinas. It suggests there was a small settlement on this site by the late 7th century. So St Gennys may have come from the Welsh monastery at Llandough or from St Kew further west in Cornwall.
I’m always looking for evidence of a spiritual well reopening. The Celtic saints laid good foundations in prayer and were often known for their deep faith and miracles. Rev George Thomson was vicar of St Gennys for 50 years, from 1732 to 1782. Early in his ministry at St Gennys he experienced dreams which deepened his religious faith. He came to know George Whitfield famous for the Great Awakening in America and has association with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Whitfield came to preach at St Gennys more than once, as did John Wesley and his brother Charles also came. Thomson did not confine his ministry to his own parish but also preached in nearby parishes, which he was not meant to do, until he was admonished by the bishop for doing so. It strikes me that a spiritual portal reopened at St Gennys during his time there. I found more about Thomson’s dreams in the extract below and how it radically changed his life. I found this interesting article about George Thomson whilst trying to discover more about his dreams.
The Holy Spirit, the Charistmata, and Signs and Wonders: Some Evangelical Perspectives from the Eighteenth Century by Michael A.G. Haykin
‘ While Doddridge clearly regarded Gardiner’s conversion as most unusual, he did mention that he was aware of at least one other like it. He did not name the individual, who was still living at the time when Doddridge wrote his biography of Gardiner in 1747. He merely stated that the individual of whom he was speaking was “one of the brightest living ornaments” of the Church of England, a man who has both an “exemplary life” and a “zealous ministry. The man in question was George Thomson (1698-1782), vicar of St. Gennys, a windswept village in North Cornwall perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. For a couple of years after his coming to St. Gennys Thomson had lived a careless life, characterized by “debaucheries” and similar in many ways to that of Gardiner before the latter’s conversion. Yet, in 1733 or 1734, Thomson was awakened from his benighted state by a dream, which was repeated three times in one night with ever-increasing terror. In the first instance of the dream, he was told: “This day month, at six in the afternoon, you must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to give an account of the dreadful abuse of all your talents, and the injuries done the souls committed to your care.” Thomson woke in alarm, but soon shrugged off the dream with the thought, “Glad I am it was no more than a dream; I am no old woman to mind dreams,” and promptly fell back asleep. The dream was repeated “with greater circumstances of terror,” and Thomson awoke again, this time deeply shaken. After much tossing and agitation, he was able to go back to sleep once more, only to be awakened after the dream had been repeated yet a third time. Thomson, now “filled with horror” and convinced that he had but a month to live, called together his friends and the leading individuals in the parish. He recounted his dream to them, told them to find someone to fill his place, and to return to conduct his funeral in a month. He then shut himself up in his home and for two weeks was “in the depth of despair,” since he was persuaded that it was not consistent with God’s honor for him to forgive one who had brought such dishonor upon his holy name. After a fortnight of distress, however, Thomson was led to Romans 3, where he “clearly saw that God could be glorified in his salvation, through the propitiation of Christ’s most precious blood.” Thomson returned to his pulpit and began to preach those doctrines which would soon be the hallmark of the Evangelical Revival: the atoning death of Christ and the imputation of his righteousness, the necessity of the new birth, and the absolute need of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence to begin and carry on a saving change in heart and life. For the full account of Thomson’s conversion, see I. Davidson, “Some Account of the Rev. George Thomson,” The Evangelical Magazine 9 (1800): 221- 25. This account consists of a letter written by Davidson in 1772. For a good study of Thomson’s ministry, see G. C. B. Davies, The Early Cornish Evangelicals 1735-1760. A Study of Walker of Truro and Others (London: S.P.C.K., 1951), 30-34, 37-52. (I’ve not yet managed to source these other references to Thomson).’
‘From 1732 until 1781 the vicar was George Thompson. In 1735, three years before Wesley had his "experience", George Thompson had his own experience after which he became a fervent christian and somewhat radical preacher with an affinity at first to Methodism and later to Calvinism. Contemporary vicars of nearby parishes observed that they had no dissenters "apart from those who go by the name of Methodists, chiefly encouraged and abetted and taught by a neighbouring clergyman, the Vicar of St Gennys". A Methodist minister wrote of Thompson in the late 1870s "Wesley did not introduce Methodism into Cornwall, he found it there." John Wesley preached in St. Gennys during 1745, 1747, 1750 and 1751 and his brother Charles Wesley stayed with Parson Thomson in 1746.’
I was intrigued to discover this snippet of history and how it tied in with what happened with the birth of Welsh Methodism and Howell Harris at Trefecca. He too was a vicar who had a radical conversion and became linked with the Wesleys and spread Methodism throughout Wales. It's a striking parallel and both were on the sites of ancient Christian Celtic activity.
I went to St Gennys expectant of meeting with God. Perhaps the presence of two holy wells so close together fuelled this. The first I found was the one tucked behind the church tower and sandwiched between the tower and a rocky cliff. It was austere, locked and had a gloomy air of neglect and of being forgotten. I was tempted to turn around and not bother to pray. I’m glad I didn’t! The moment I turned my spirit towards God His Holy Spirit came in such power I was visibly shaking. I went into a vision and saw in the Spirit a tunnel leading downhill to an ancient pool of water. Two translucent blue and gold angels guarded the path and lit it. I felt the warm touch of an angel on my hand, like warm breath and as though it had taken hold of my hand. Suddenly without any transition I found myself swimming in the ancient pool in the Spirit realm. The water was clear, blue and pure, full of peace and timeless. At some point I encountered a being calling itself The Guardian of the Well but I knew this wasn’t from God’s side, so bound it and kept my eyes on Jesus.
In encounters of this kind it’s important not to be wowed or overcome by the encounter but to keep the focus on Jesus and asking Him what He’s revealing. It was clear here that there’s a deep spiritual inheritance from those who have gone before and that whilst the enemy might try to contest it, the well is still open and accessible.
I sensed to carry on praying inside the church. Oh how easy it is to pray in this church! It was easy to enter God’s presence, to feel Him draw near. Praise and adoration poured out of my spirit in song. I glimpsed, in a vision, a monk in brown habit momentarily, outside of time and assumed it to be St Gennys but then my spirit became aware of a figure standing over me in metal armour. He had no helmet on, a kind face and blond hair. It took me a while to realise it was an angel and to see he had wings. He was carrying a large sword. I was prostrate in prayer before the altar when I realised he was raising his sword about to strike me. A frisson of fear swept through me but left as swiftly as it came. His sword came down and cut through a shell that the enemy seemed to have covered me in, a carapace. It was slit open and I knew I could step out. I was experiencing a new level of freedom. These spiritual encounters are often hard to put into words but what is happening in the realm of God's Spirit will manifest in the natural realm in due course.
The main experience at this well and church was a rising level of FAITH. Hope returned and faith to believe what was promised.
I could also hear a loud wind buffeting around the church outside yet it was still and peaceful inside. This has happened twice before; the first time in February 2020. I knew then God was warning me of imminent turmoil and to stay in His peace, in the eye of the storm. Within weeks we were in total lockdown countrywide with the first covid restrictions. I sensed this time too was a wake up call to be ready and stay confident in His peace.
I wrote a prayer psalm at the time:
I hear the wind howling
something big draws near once again
but in this place
in the centre of where You are
there is peace
there is always peace
oh that I might stay here
oh that I might not falter again
oh that I would remain
steadfast right to the end
don’t let me be swayed
don’t let me fall