The following three photographs I took in 1998 showing how the towns and villages in Derbyshire dress their ancient wells once a year
Every picture tells a story and
every picture is made up entirely of flowers
The following pictures are scanned from the above book
Outside Derbyshire well-dressing is a mystery.
Even inside the county it is a mystery in the
Shakesperean sense of a skilled craft practiced only by a priviledged few initiates.
In reading the above book, well dressing almost certainly originated in pagan sacrifices to water-gods as a thanksgiving for past supplies and an inducement for further favours. Finding the sacrifice of humans and animals wasteful and sometimes distressing, primitive man adopted the more economical, colourful practice of hanging garlands of flowers above springs as some South American Indian tribes still hang torn strips of colourful cotton above springs and wells for the same purpose.
The early Christian church handled pagan customs sensitively, absorbing and adapting rather than supressing. That this was a slow process is clear from a decree of 960 expressly forbidding the worship of fountains. As late as 1102 , St. Anselm was still condemning 'this form of idolatory'.
But well-dressing today has strong religious links. Probably 3 out of every 4 pictures has a religious theme and an interdenominational blessing of wells is held everywhere. There are some well-dressers that see it as akin to harvest festivals.