Maybe Penrhys is just as spiritually important as the Notre Dame in Lourdes, but here you wouldn’t find a large basilica, millions of tourists or an economy based around the legend. Instead there is just a statue in the middle of a field, next to a council estate with a community centre. It’s an obscure little place in the Welsh valleys, but just a 20 minute drive along the A470 and across the bridge in Porth.
How this site became sacred is shrouded in legend, the truth lost in the depths of history – perhaps it was a centre for nature worship in pre-Christian times, because the spring provided clean water and people were awestruck by the view of the valleys. There’s no doubt an earlier statue, ostensibly of Our Lady, existed somewhere in the vicinity, but nobody knew where it came from. Allegedly the statue mysteriously appeared one day in the opening of a large tree. For a while, many travelled from afar to see it, and because the spring was considered special in some way.
During the ‘Reformation’ period, the authorities destroyed the shrine and the original statue, in an attempt to supplant Catholicism with a regulated state religion. The statue we see today was installed there sometime in the 1950s.
Further down the hill there’s an area that looks like a miniature Roman ‘theatre’, obviously constructed quite recently. This is where we celebrated the outdoor Mass with my local priest and several other priests from around the valleys. We were quite lucky with the weather, as it had been crap most the week.
The well is a little harder to find. To get to it, there’s a footpath (marked) from the road running behind the theatre. Following that downhill leads to the small stone building.
The spring’s outlet is hidden away to the side of this building, amongst the grass and undergrowth.