This year we have been challenged not to take water for granted. Long weeks with little or no rain dried up fields and gardens, while rivers’ flow diminished. In one lake nearby many fish died from lack of oxygen.
It was a relief to come to the back of the old Harbledown leper hospital near Canterbury the week before the drought broke and to find the spring flowing in the holy well.
Edward, the Black Prince and Prince of Wales would have been happy, too. He attributed a cure he received to taking the water. He was devoted to Canterbury and was buried in the cathedral in 1376. The well is sometimes called the Black Prince’s Well, sometimes St Thomas’s. This was the last spot to water horses before descending into the city; a chance for riders, too, to take a cold drink and for the hospital to beg for alms.
Notice the Prince of Wales’s feathers carved on the capstone of the arch, an older example of this emblem, more formal than the version on British 2p coins and instantly recognisable to passers-by. The stone appears to be balanced on top of the arch rather than holding all of it together. Perhaps this sign of royal favour was enough to spare the well under the Tudor monarchs’ vandalism.
Let us pray with Saint Francis: Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water, So useful, humble, precious and pure.
And let us remember how precious water is, and how impure it has become because we have despised its humility and taken it for granted.