It bugs me when authors don’t credit their research. Take this for example:

St Iten’s Well, at Cambusnethan, in Lanarkshire, at one time was held in good repute as a cure for asthma and skin diseases.

Thomas Frost, in William Andrews, Bygone church life in Scotland (1899)

Interesting, but compare it with this:

Many churches bear St. Aidan’s name. Among them are those of Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire and Menmuir in Angus. At the latter place is the saint’s holy well, which was renowned for the cure of asthma and other complaints.

Dom Michael Barrett: A calendar of Scottish saints (1919)

Are there two separate wells getting mixed up? Neither author explains who held the well in such repute, nor did they bother to name their sources. There’s probably been a misunderstanding that the original might clear up.

Frost reckons ‘Iten’ is a derivation of Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine and apparent discoverer of the True Cross back in the 4th century, but to be honest, that seems a bit unlikely. There are plenty of Celtic saints around, there’s no reason for a link with Byzantium, and the derivation just doesn’t match.  So far as the name goes, Aidan certainly seems a more likely source for ‘Iten’ than Helena.

I can’t find any other mention of St Iten’s Well anywhere, so where was it?

24th June 2011

I’ve since found this:

Aidan has not been forgotten in the matter of wells. There are four to him, viz, at Menmuir and at Fearn, in Forfarshire; in Balmerino, in Fife; and at Cambusnethan in Lanarkshire. This last, called St Iten’s Well, was noted for the cure of asthma and skin-disease.

James M Mackinlay: Folklore of Scottish lochs and springs (1893)

So, Round 3 to Cambusnethan. This is certainly the earliest mention I’ve found of St Iten’s Well so far, but the source of the story remains unknown. Could be the later writers are simply plagiarising earlier books (a bit like an undergraduate essay 🙂 )

More digging led to “The golden days of the early English church”, which says,

Bishop Forbes in the Kalendars of Scottish Saints says of his memorials in Scotland : ” The churches of Cambusnethan and of Menmuir were dedicated to the saint. Near to the latter church is St. Iten’s Well, celebrated for the cure of asthma and cutaneous diseases.”

Henry H Howorth: The golden days of the early English church (1917)

Round 4 to Angus?

However, our star pupil is Bishop Forbes mentioned above. The entry in Kalendars actually says,

The churches of Cambusnethan (Commissary Records, Glasgow) and of Menmuir were dedicated to this saint. Near to the latter church used to be S. Iten’s well, celebrated for the cure of asthma and cutaneous diseases.—(Jervise’s Land of the Lindsays, p. 241, Edin. 1853.)

Alexander Penrose Forbes: Kalendars of Scottish saints (1872)

Full marks to Forbes for decent attribution of sources. Sorry, Lanarkshire. At least you got a mention.

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