28th March. c800? Alkelda: Saint or Myth?
In Anglo-Saxon Britain many largely unknown female saints were created : Modwenna, Bertha of Kent, Edith of Wilton, Edith of Polesworth and… Alkelda to whom Today in the Roman calendar is dedicated as a feast day.
Saints then were decided by local proclamation, largely based on local association with a particular holiness or miracles or even with downright legend. Not until Pope Gregory IX in 1234 was Canonization formalised and systematic.
The lives of the saints have been documented and embellished down the ages and one makes of them what one will, depending on one’s taste for the supernatural.
What stands out from their lives is often an association with piety and a holy well: Alkelda is associated with piety and miracles of the well near Middleham in Yorkshire, reputed to be a cure for weak eyes.
The parish churches at Middleham and Giggleswick are dedicated to Alkelda, from which root Keld, is a well or spring notably in Keldhome and Keld Head.(1)
Going back to ancient times the local spring or well were sanctified and associated with miracles and mystical ceremonies, being controlled by ‘guardians of the well’ at the Nyphaeum consecrated to Nymphs.
Not surprisingly Christianity made these sites their own which mollified the pagan culture, but under a Christian dress; waters were now made to flow by the saints.
Alkelda derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for holy, ‘Haleg’, and ‘Kelda’ for well, much revered as the source of disease-free water, becoming also meeting places for the local governing Wapentake.
The area around Middleham was called Hallikeld and in 1157 one of the wapentakes near Richmond was called Halikeldshire.
The home town of the Author had its own saint, Modwenna (Modwen) founder of Burton Abbey, on an island in the Trent, and where the well was later associated with miracles and healing. The nearby church was dedicated in her name.
Though popular in those days of ascribing natural phenomena by association with the local holy woman (or man) who became a saint, I haven’t noticed lately an influx of pilgrims to the Broadholme on the Trent.
However many, no doubt, will be giving a toast today to the good Alkeda.
(1) In 1525 James Carr in Giggleswick wished to be buried at the church of Giggleswicke of Holie Blessed virgin S. Alkelda.
darlingtonstocktontimes.co.uk/weekend/Pic of Middleham.
imagesofengland.co.uk/Pic of Giggleswick.