Scotland’s Year of Stories
Heaven and Hell, Stories
of hope and despair in Kinross-shire
The story of the Healing well of Fons ScotiaeThis is the story of a place – a place beside Loch Leven where people have lived for thousands of years – a place we call Scotlandwell. The spring at the centre of this story has probably been here for thousands of years as well. The springs were formed when water falls on the hills above Scotlandwell and gradually makes its way through permeable rock like limestone and finally bubbles up from deep underground through cracks in the rock and then the sandy earth – and the way it bubbles up through the earth must have looked quite magical to the people who lived here and who used the water. However, it took the Roman invasion of Caledonia (Scotland) by Julius Agricola and his Legions in 83AD to actually publicise the existence of this spring. Camps were set up for the Legions in Lochore, in Fife, and at forts such as Bertha in Perth and Ardoch, near Braco in Perthshire to keep the local population in order. People think that the Roman soldiers stopped here to rest and ‘take the waters’ – on their march between the two camps. They called the place Fons Scotiae in Latin, meaning Scottish Fountain – and so the mystical waters became well known outside of the area around Loch Leven – and perhaps it is then that it gets the reputation as a Healing Spring.
Now, nothing much seems to happen for a long time – and then we start to hear about the pilgrims that are travelling between Culross, on the Forth, and St Andrews. They are visiting the holy shrines at Culross, Dunfermline and St Andrews and need to make stops along the way – and it seems as if these pilgrims used the mystical spring at Scotlandwell for rest and recuperation. Possibly, it was then that it was suggested that the water had remarkable healing powers, and the Bishop of St Andrews, about 1214, established a religious house with a hospice for the reception of ‘poor and needy’ folk to make use of the curative powers of the waters. The friars who came here charged the pilgrims money to get them refreshed and on their way – but in 1251 the new Bishop granted the hospital to the Trinitarians.
This was an order of monks set up by Pope Innocent III and based in Paris who wore white robes with a red and blue cross on the chest. For some reason they were also called the Red Friars! These friars knew all about using herbs and water in curing skin diseases and other ailments. The hospital got a lot of publicity when King Robert the Bruce came (in the 14th century) and said he had been cured of his leprosy. These friars needed as much money as they could get, as their main aim was to buy back Christians who had been captured by pirates along the coast of North Africa and made into slaves. So, this claim was just what was needed, and their hospital -the Ecclesia Hospitale of Fons Scotiae became very successful and very wealthy. Much later, the well is also said to have been visited by Mary Queen of Scots and Charles II.
However, the Arnots of Arnot Tower near Scotlandwell wanted this money for themselves and pushed their younger sons into the order – so that eventually Friar Archibald Arnot became the Head. This was not thought to be a good idea by the Head of the Trinitarians in Scotland – but no matter how hard they tried they could not get it back, and the Arnots held it, until eventually the religious order and the hospital was closed and torn down after the Reformation in 1587. The remains are there in Friar Place – but local people took away the stones to build houses so little is left.
The Arnots continued to own the site of the Hospital and in about 1856 Sir Thomas Bruce of Arnot decided that the spot where the well now stands was in need of urgent improvement. It was then described as being "an almost unapproachable slough of mire and filth" beside which stood "a half ruinous building used sometimes as a washing house and sometimes as a slaughter house." So not very nice!
So, Sir Thomas brought in the architect
David Bryce, from Edinburgh, who designed the rather pretty building which
covers the well and also the washhouse across from it.
This event has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.
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