Fringe Box



Letter: A Cave on St. Catherine’s Hill

Published on: 31 Mar, 2020
Updated on: 31 Mar, 2020

St Catherine’s Hill with Network Rail workers on-site.

From: Dr Mary Alexander

former collections officer at Guildford Museum

In response to: Mystery Medieval Cave Discovered Below Guildford’s Historic St Catherine’s Chapel

News that a cave has been found on St Catherine’s Hill is very exciting. There has been a suggestion that it was a hermit’s cave. This is perfectly possible, but difficult to prove without more information.

St Catherine’s Hill clearly had something special about it, with its earlier name of Drake Hill suggesting a folk belief of a dragon guarding treasure. There is also the spring at the bottom of the hill said to cure eye complaints.  Healing waters are often connected with pilgrimage sites near caves.

St Catherine’s Chapel was built around 1300 by the rector of St. Nicholas. Some documents of 1307 about the ownership of the land describe the hill but do not mention a cave or a hermit, neither does the licence for a fair in 1308. There do not seem to be any references to a hermit, but that does not mean there wasn’t one. Many medieval religious practices have disappeared without trace.

It is possible that a hermit made himself a cave, which encouraged the rector to build a chapel, because people may have been visiting the hermit. But if that was the case I would expect some reference to the hermit in the documents of the early 1300s.  It’s more likely that a hermit was attracted to the chapel, though how he managed during the fair is not clear.

We mustn’t speculate more until we really do know more about it: there may be a different explanation, but the cave is certainly very interesting.

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Responses to Letter: A Cave on St. Catherine’s Hill

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 31, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    Let’s hope any research is treated with more respect than the Green Man site, now Aldi.

    Despite it being a historic pre 1700s site, less than one hour was taken to investigate its historical value before digging out the cellar and filling it with concrete.

  2. Kathleen Parrish Reply

    April 1, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    Is it possible that the spring can cure other ills even this new Coronavirus.

  3. Vikki King Reply

    April 8, 2020 at 12:51 am

    Round 1999 I found a Phoenician coin on the grounds of a neighbouring property and it was pooh-poohed by the local museum. Perhaps it was really a genuine find?

  4. Stuart Barnes Reply

    April 8, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    Old residents claim that years ago the stream in Ferry Lane was considered to have healing properties, especially for eye problems, and chemists in Guildford used to bottle and sell water from it.

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