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A student sits at the well with Miss Buckton, 1915
A student sits at the well with Miss Buckton, 1915
A student sits at the well with Miss Buckton, 1915

“Bitter the waters of grief; but sweet is the Well-spring”: Alice Buckton and The Coming of Bride

The Coming of Bride’ was written by Alice alongside her students of the Chalice Well for the Guild of Festival Players (Glastonbury and Street). It was first produced on 6th August 1914. The play follows Bride’s story, commencing with her shipwreck at the age of seven upon the shores of Iona. There she is entertained by the Arch-Druid Cathal and his followers. Her story unfolds over four acts, culminating with the Abbot Patrick and the anchorites of Chalice Hill meeting Bride in the Isle of Avalon. There, she and her maidens are blessed by Patrick and given leave to settle upon the Isle of Beckery. The play ends with her foretelling to the King the coming of Arthur; the formation of the Round Table; and the Questing of the Holy Grail. Bride declares that in future days these things shall be sung in days of storm and of great victory: –

“Bitter the waters of grief; but sweet is the Well-spring. Stoop, and be fearless. Drink, O ye Builders of Joy.”

These lines were originally written by William Sharp/Fiona Macleod. His widow, Elizabeth, gave Alice permission to quote from them during the final act.

Today we find ourselves as a nation once more in the days of storm. Perhaps we can seek solace ourselves in the fact that Alice wrote and performed this play at Chalice Well during the massive upheavals and tragedies of the First World War and the Spanish Flu epidemic. It seems that during these great global storms, Alice looked to history for consolation and for hope in the figure of St Bride. Let us do the same today and remember her prophetic words as we meditate upon the beautiful Imbolc well-dressing:

“Here shall they drink again
From the Ageless Well of Youth!”

In doing so, let us also look forward once more to gathering in companionship and peace at the Well head and making the “corners of the great Earth one!

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