St Nonna’s holy well, Altarnun, Cornwall
Location: OS map SX2243981533
St Nonna was a sixth century Celtic Christian missionary, also the mother of St David. The story goes that she was raped, conceived and then had such a traumatic birth that her nail marks are still visible in the rock where she gave birth. Not much else is known of her life but there are several places in Cornwall associated with her including Pelynt (place of Non) where she has another holy well. See the separate entry on this site. Altarnun (the altar of Non) near Camelford is where she established a prayer community and had another well.
The church is open and beautiful but the startling thing for me was when I stepped through the rood screen into the altar area. I literally took an intake of breath as the presence of God is so strong. It’s truly a holy thin place where heaven touches earth. My husband and I spent a while here worshipping before I saw a vision. In it some I’ll people were being mistreated and I realised it was attached to what went on at the holy well, after Nonna’s time. The pool was used as a ‘bowsenning ’ pool. In effect mad people and those with mental illness were thrown into the pool then dragged to the church for mass to try to cure them. Whatever the motive, what I saw in my vision was immensely cruel. I spent time repenting that this had happened in this church on this holy ground. Then I was aware of two angels by the altar, one red, the other blue.
In the churchyard there is a large Celtic cross from the sixth century, the time when Nonna was alive.
After praying in the church we set off into the village to find the holy well. We got well lost but eventually a local farmer gave us directions.
Directions to the holy well of St Nonna:
From the church turn left away from the village and head uphill on the Camelford road. As the road bends to the left there is a pull in with two iron gates, one large the other pedestrian. These lead to a grassy path going down hill. Continue to a wooden kissing gate.
You are now in a field. Turn right and head down hill towards the way through into the next field. The well is in the bottom right hand corner. It is marked by a slate stating this is Nonna’s well.
It was hard to gain access into the well enclosure as the entrance was barricaded, presumably to prevent stock from falling down and being hurt. We had to clamber over the walls and barbed wire to enter.
Local Christians are restoring the well and have created a beautiful enclosure garden. It was delightful to find it loved and cared about, plus its Christian heritage being honoured. There is a tiny garden with a rustic cross on the upper level, with slate steps leading down to the pool. A stone path leads along the edge of the pool to the well which is hidden in the hillside. The whole place is incredible and unique. It’s another of those timeless thin places where time seems to stand still or even be absent. There’s a deep peace and presence again of God and his angels.
We worshipped there singing ‘spring up oh well in the name of Jesus’. (Numbers 21:17). After the vision I saw in the church, I was again led to repent for cruelty which had happened at the pool. I commanded anything dark to leave and asked God to restore the holiness of this well. As I prayed this, I had another vision which took me by surprise. A fountain erupted in the middle of the pool, of gold water. Angels started to come with bowls to collect the water. They were then dispatched across Cornwall. I was led to pray that this ancient anointing of God would once more be released in the county. We sensed the anointing at this well is for wholeness of mind, salvation and new life.
Nonna’s well is a very special place. It’s ethereal and beautiful in the natural, with serenity and peace in the surroundings but it’s exceptional as a thin place. It is somewhere to linger, to pray, to commune with God, to listen, to rest and to breathe deeply. It’s definitely one of my favourite places.