When most of us think of Valentine’s Day – the 14th of February typically springs to mind. Here in Wales, we have our Welsh equivalent of this annual celebration which falls a little earlier.
Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St. Dwynwen’s Day) falls on the 25th of January each year. Dwynwen was the Welsh saint of lovers, and there are a number of variations about her story.
The most traditional tale is set in the 5th Century, in a time where women were typically married simply to make alliances – with very little genuine love involved.
Dwynwen was the beautiful daughter of Brychan Brycheiniog, the king of South Wales. As a young woman, she fell in love with Prince Maelon Dafodrill, the son of a neighbouring king. The young couple were madly in love, and Maelon eventually asked King Brychan for Dwynwen’s hand in marriage.
The king refused, stating that he had already found a more suitable match for his daughter. Maelon became angry at Dwynwen, which caused her to run into the nearby woodland, where she then cried herself to sleep.
After falling asleep, Dwynwen was visited by a spirit (or an angel in alternative tales), which offered her a potion that was designed to erase all her memories of Maelon, as well as turning him into a block of ice.
The spirit then allowed her three wishes. Dwynwen’s first wish was for Maelon to be thawed, her second was for God to make sure all the dreams of true lovers were made a reality and the third was that she would never marry again.
It was then said that Dwynwen became a nun, and left for the isle of Anglesey, where she built a church. This church is known as ‘Llanddwyn’, and the remains can still be seen today on the island off the coast of Anglesey. In fact, it’s less than an hours drive from the Black Boy Inn.
It is said that the well on the island dedicated to Dwynwen contains sacred fish – whose movements predict the futures of lovers observing them.
As well as being the patron saint of love, St Dwynwen is also the patron saint of sick and distressed animals.
Whilst not as commercially promoted as Valentine’s Day, couples in Wales are able to purchase Santes Dwynwen greeting cards to give to one another. A traditional gift on this day is a Welsh love spoon. These typically handmade wooden spoons are decorated and carved into shapes and symbols, and have been crafted for centuries within Wales.
Our Year of Legends page features a number of similar Welsh tales to Santes Dwynwen, with many of them based within areas close to the Black Boy Inn that are still accessible today.