Saint Wite of Whitchurch Canonicorum
c. 801 - 842 A.D.
( Wite, Wita, Witta, Whyte, Candida, Gwen )
The words of this liturgy display, to some degree, a preservation of a time when Anglo-Saxon England was under attack by the Danes. It tells of a time of conversion from ancient beliefs to the ideals of Christianity.
But old pre-Christian practices were just as likely to be preserved in the policies of the expanding Church. 'Medicine, liturgy, and folklore intertwined in the literate communities of late Saxon England. This ... intertwining represents popular culture and religious practices in ... the diverse fusions of Germanic, classical, and Christian traditions ... and reflect an oral tradition of synthesis in everyday practice.' (Jolly). Both Irish and Anglo-Saxon Christianity evolved as remote modifications of the doctrine in Rome. Home-grown monks were directed to honor old practices and places of worship, by only slowly modifying the established practices of the people. Churches were built over old shrines. Pagan festivals were retained but dedicated to saints instead of the old gods. Only in this way would Christianity have been received and some degree of conversion realized.
One likely representation of this conversion of pre-Christian sites can be found on the western outskirts of the village of Morcombelake, England. Here is found the Well of Saint Whyte. At ground level, it is marked by a small, rectangular stone basin measuring about l ft x l½ ft. » It is said that water from this well has the healing powers.
But it seems that this site is much older than that. Certainly old enough that very little is known about it. And it certainly is believed to by a holy site where healing occurs. This seems to point to a time of the Anglo-Saxon settlements in England. Is it a healer's well of the Pre-Christain nature? Springs were often holy sites to the early Germans. A Wite, perhaps, was a female healer.
Most of the pre-Christian sites of Anglo-Saxon times where built over by the Christian Church. Often, saint's relics where imported to these sites to begin a process of convertion. Names like Wite and Witta were encouraged to hold new meanings in an attempt to remove any relationship to the pagan past. The old religion was to be forgotten. Except for a few exceptions, the old holy wells vanished. But has the history of one remain?
It can only be surmized that the names Wite and Witta where common titles for healers and religious leaders. The Church often attached Latin alternatives that translate as 'white'. Candida and Albinus carry this meaning. It seems quite possible that this was a conscious effort to confuse the nearly identical sounding words. Clearly too, 'white' was associated with 'good'; and 'black' was associated with 'evil'. So although ties to pre-Christian beliefs were to be broken, there was a clarification that some 'good' managed to take the proper steps toward accepting the new Church.
Likewise, very little knowledge remains of the Anglo-Saxon Wittan. This Counsel of Elders was quite important to the early Anglo-Saxon people, only to alude us of any thorough understanding of its history.
So, despite the fact that the full story of Wite's Well will never be known, it does serve to show perhaps the ancient aspect of the name.