Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Michelle Nordtorp-Madson

Second Advisor

Victoria Young

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall

Fourth Advisor

James Rogers


The Irish holy wells of St. Brigid are spaces where ritual and worship are
informed by, and intertwined with, the surrounding sacred landscape. Through
the use of formal analysis, iconography, iconology, and ritual theory the question
of how visual culture, ritual, and landscape create sacred space at the holy wells
of St. Brigid in Ireland will be explored. Holy wells are worship spaces that are
thought to be remnants from an ancient culture, the pre-Christian Celts. The set
of movements that one performs while moving through the landscape are a
blend of native and ecclesiastical traditions, resulting in a syncretic prayer
experience. Ritual is an integral part of any holy well experience and it can
involve not just the holy well, but also sacred trees and stones. Additionally, the
figure we know as St. Brigid is a composite character, a mixture of Celtic pre-
Christian and early Christian cultures. Both strands of syncretism co-exist
together, providing new symbolic meaning to St. Brigid as a person and the holy
wells associated with her. The holy wells of St. Brigid still maintain a place in
Irish religion and spirituality today, although some have been lost to time or
abandoned. I have found mention of one hundred holy wells dedicated to St.
Brigid in Ireland throughout the course of my research, but this paper will focus
on four sites, chosen because of their popularity, the fact that they are still
venerated today, and because the greatest amount of information focuses on
these holy wells: one in Faughart, County Louth; two in Tully, County Kildare,
near Kildare Town; and one in Ballysteen, County Clare, near the town of

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.