On 25 January, the Welsh celebrate St. Dwynwen’s Day, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. St. Dwynwen’s Day (Dydd Santes Dwynwen in Welsh) is the Welsh Valentine’s Day.
It is said that Dwynwen was the spirited daughter of King Brychan Brycheinoig of Brecon, who lived in the 5th century. She was renowned for her beauty. As the legend goes, she fell in love with a prince called Maelon Dafodrill, who was the son of a rival king. She was unable to marry him because her father forbade the marriage and had already made arrangements for her to marry someone else. Maelon was so outraged that he raped Dwynwen and left her. In her grief, Dwynwen fled to the woods where she begged God to release her from her pain.
After falling asleep, she was visited by an angel carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and to turn him into a block of ice. God then grants Dwynwen three wishes. Her first wish was for Maelon to be thawed; her second wish was that, through her, God would look after all true lovers; and her third wish was that she would never fall in love again and marry. All three wishes were fulfilled. As a sign of her gratitude, she devoted herself to the service of God for the rest of her life.
She withdrew to the solitude of a small tidal island off the southwest coast of Anglesey and built a church which is known as Llanddwyn (Church of Dwynwen) where she founded a convent. She is thought to have died around AD 460.
On the island is Dwynwen’s Well, where, allegedly, a sacred fish (or eel, depending on what you read) lives whose movements can foretell the destinies of lovers. The church became an important shrine in the Middle Ages. Following the Reformation, devotions at the shrine were suppressed and the site quickly fell into ruin. During Queen Victoria’s reign, around 1879, a plain 14-foot cross was erected in memory of Dwynwen. Then, in 1903, a Celtic Cross was erected near the ruins of the church, also in memory of Dwynwen.
During the 14th century, upon visiting the island, the medieval love poet, Daydd ap Gwilym, who first popularized Dwynwen’s story in the 13th century, witnessed a golden image of Dwynwen inside the church. And was bold enough to request her help as a messenger between himself and Morfudd, the girl he hoped to win, despite the fact Morfudd was already married.
Saint Dwynwen’s Day Today
In the 1960s Vera Williams, a University College in Bangor student, sought to revive the observance of St. Dwynwen’s Day by commissioning four designs for St. Dwynwen’s Day cards in the style of a “Welsh Valentine’s card”. Local press adopted the idea and by 2004 the celebration of 25 January as a festival for Welsh lovers was well established. Though it’s still not as popular as Valentine’s Day, it is becoming more popular with the Welsh.
You can celebrate St. Dwynwen’s Day like the Welsh by exchanging cards, gifts, and flowers, taking time out, having special meals with loved ones, walking on the beach, carving love spoons, cwtching in front of a roaring fire, or perhaps composing a love poem to read at your local pub.
Visiting Ynys Llanddwyn
You can visit the remains of Dwynwen’s church on the island of Ynys LLanddwyn in Anglesey. Llanddwyn Island is actually a peninsula that is rarely cut off by the highest tides. Walk out into the headland and you’ll find two lighthouses, a couple of pilot’s cottages (which become a visitor’s center in the summer), and the ruins of Dwynwen’s church. With its wild grass-strewn dunes, large granite rocks, lovely shady bays, undulating terrain, historical heritage, and wide range of plant and animal life, Llanddwyn is an ideal way to spend a few hours or a day exploring.
Although I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Ynys Llanddwyn yet because of the pandemic and other sad reasons, I have gathered from many sources that it is a beautiful and magical place. Besides the stunning Blue Flag beaches (the Blue Flag (blueflag.global is a certification given to beaches by the Foundation for Environmental Education. The award is a guarantee to visitors that the beach is free from litter, has excellent facilities, and has a high standard of water quality) Ynys Llanddwyn is home to red squirrels and ravens, and is backed by dunes and a forest. It is located in the Newborough Nature Reserve that has stunning views across the Menai Strait to the mountains of Snowdonia. There are several wells and springs besides Dwynwen’s Well on the island, including Merddyn Cil (Merlin’s Well) and Ffynnon Dafaden (whose waters are said to cure warts).
You can take an aerial tour of Ynys Llanddwyn below.
You can find gifts from Welsh Makers to give on St. Dwynwen’s Day by visiting our shop.