Petrifying Well

The Lore and the Science

Decorated with teddy bears, bicycles, and other souvenirs, Mother Shipton’s petrifying well is thought to have an unusual quality—it can turn objects to stone!

According to lore, Mother Shipton was born Ursula Southhell in 1488, in a Knaresborough, England, cave. She was said to be a witch and an oracle, associated with many tragic events in the area and predicting, in prose, the horrors that were to doom the Tudor reign. She is to blame for bewitching the well.

The well’s petrifying properties can also be explained by modern science. When the well water flows over objects, its unusually high mineral content hardens them—much like the way stalactites and stalagmites form in caves. Astoundingly, objects are hardened in just three to five months!
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Despite science, Mother Shipton may still have some credibility…

The first publication of her prophecies, which appeared in 1641, eighty years after her death, contained a number of predictions—some all too accurate:

  • “For in those wondrous far off days, the women shall adopt a craze. To dress like men, and trousers wear, and to cut off all their locks of hair. They’ll ride astride with brazen brow, as witches do on broomsticks now.”
    • Women increasingly wore trousers in the 1920s and began adopting short, bold hairstyles, and forget riding side-saddle—ladies were taking on horses and bikes like gentlemen!
  • “A carriage without horse will go, disaster fill the world with woe.”
    • This sounds eerily like the introduction of automobiles and trains, accompanied by the accidents that come with them.
  • “Around the world men’s thoughts will fly, quick as a twinkling of an eye.”
    • The invention of mass communication, from the telephone to television and, later, the Internet helped thoughts be shared.
  • “Then when the fiercest strife is done, England and France shall be as one”
    • England and France worked as allies during World War II.

Petrifying Well


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