By Billy Scobie
Saint Servanus (also known as St. Serf and St. Shear) was a Celtic missionary who laboured widely throughout Central Scotland in the 6th – 7th centuries. The ruins of the ancient Church of St. Serf are still standing in Dumbarton’s Levengrove Park. Here there was a holy spring, venerated for its healing powers, which was blessed by the saint. It became known to the folk of the burgh as Saint Shear’s Well for countless generations.
When Mary and I were courting we used to visit the Well regularly. On one occasion we each heard the sound of a bell tolling across the River Leven. It was a very distinctive chime which didn’t resemble any of the town’s usual bells.
A few days later, while researching something totally different in Dumbarton Library, I discovered “by chance” a poem entitled “A Tale of Saint Shear’s Well, Levengrove, Dumbarton.” It had been published in the Lennox Herald on the 23rd of September 1893, and I suspect it was based on a very old local legend.
Apparently there was a beautiful maiden who lived beside Saint Shear’s Well. She fell in love with a brave knight of noble birth who courted her there. In the evenings, as the sun set, they walked by the riverside and spoke of their love for each other –
“By the sweetest place ‘neath Heaven,
and the dearest vows were given,
At their trysting place, the good Saint Shear’s Well…”
“Not a care, a cloud, a sorrow,
Life of sunshine, day and morrow,
And never-ending joyous marriage bell…”
(I was intrigued by this mention of a bell.)
However, her brave knight had to leave her to go to war and though he promised to return, he was killed heroically in a noble cause. When the fair maiden returned to the Well, hoping to welcome him back into her arms, instead she was greeted by angels singing a requiem for the dead knight.
In time to come the spirits of the two lovers could be seen occasionally by the Well.
“In the deep, dark, silent midnight,
Neath the dim and distant starlight,
For a moment seen – ah, hush – I fear to tell.
Two spirits, poised lightly,
Whose eyes with love shine brightly,
At their trysting place, the good Saint Shear’s Well.”
No wonder it will always be a special place for Mary and I.
St Serf’s Church in Levengrove Park, Dumbarton.