CBHC / RCAHMW > News > Happy Santes Dwynwen Day!
Image of Ynys Llanddwyn Lighthouse taken by Douglas Hague author of our eBook , Lighthouses of Wales (1994).

Happy Santes Dwynwen Day!

January 25 is St Dwynwen’s Day or in Welsh Dydd Santes Dwynwen.  This is the date when people in Wales celebrate their love for each other and is frequently referred to as the Welsh St. Valentines.  However, despite St Dwynwen’s being the Welsh patron saint of lovers and being a day when presents, gifts and cards are exchanged to demonstrate people’s love for each other there is a tragic personal story behind the celebrations.

The lighthouse, pilot's house and St. Dwynwen's Church on Llanddwyn Island photographed by the Royal Commission in 2015.
The lighthouse, pilot’s house and St. Dwynwen’s Church on Llanddwyn Island photographed by the Royal Commission in 2015.

Dwynwen was a Welsh princess who lived in the 5th century and was one of Brychan Brycheiniog’s, ruler of Brycheiniog (Breconshire), many daughters. According to legends and tales, inherited by different generations, Dwynwen had fallen in love with Maelon Dafodrill who flew into a rage when he heard that she was to be betrothed to a man of her father’s choice. Unfortunately, her father disapproved of Dwynwen’s suitor and in her angst Dwynwen fled to a woods where she prayed to God for guidance and advice about what she should do. An angel visited her after she fell asleep, carrying a special potion which she drank to make her forget about Maelon.  But in doing so, Maelon was immediately turned into a block of ice and in return God gave Dwynwen three wishes, namely thawing Maelon, that the wishes and hopes of lovers would be achieved by God and that lastly, Dwynwen herself would never marry.  All three wishes were fulfilled and consequently Dwynwen, in recognition of God’s support, committed the rest of her life to being a nun, establishing a convent on Anglesey (Ynys Môn), in Llanddwyn.

Ynys Llanddwyn itself is a peninsula on the south-west coastline of Anglesey near Newborough (Niwbwrch) and visitors have to be aware of the tidal timetable as it can be cut off from mainland Ynys Môn.  Visitors usually make their way to the famous lighthouse dramatically sited on the rocky southern tip of the island.  The light was first shown in 1846 from a tapering tower characteristic of the famous Anglesey windmills.  Not far away are a row of Pilot Cottages.

The area played an important part in medieval Welsh history with the administrative court of the Welsh princes of Gwynedd, being located at Rhosyr, near Newborough with Newborough being established at the end of the 13th century as a borough by Edward I for the Welsh who were driven out of Beaumaris by him after his conquest.  The place-names on the island of Anglesey  provide an insight into various aspects of the island’s history as well as the area’s cultural heritage many of which are recorded in our List of Historic Place Names in Wales. https://rcahmw.gov.uk/discover/list-of-historic-place-names/ The history of Christianity in Wales is littered with the stories of saints and Dwynwen’s Church is an example, amongst a significant minority in Wales such as Melangell, Mair, Tudful, Non, Gwenfrewi, Gwyryfon, Ffraid, of a church dedicated to a woman. ‘Llanddwyn’ in Welsh means ‘church of Dwynwen’ Llanddwyn / Llanddwyn – Head Name – Historic Place Names of Wales (rcahmw.gov.uk) and Eglwys Santes Dwynwen was established in the 16th century on the ruins of Dwynwen’s initial convent which according to legend is the location of Dwynwen’s grave.  The church became ruined after the Reformation but enough survived for the Royal Commission to record in the Anglesey Inventory (1937), p.119 which is free to download from our online shop: Anglesey: An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in the County. People still visit Eglwys Santes Dwynwen and leave offerings in the masonry of the unroofed church. Map – Historic Place Names of Wales (rcahmw.gov.uk) / Llanddwyn Island – Recorded name – Historic Place Names of Wales (rcahmw.gov.uk)

Ynys Llanddwyn has become a place of pilgrimage for romantics and has a few springs and wells, such as Merddyn-cûl (Merlin’s Well), Ffynnon y Sais and Ffynnon Dafaden, which claims to have powers to heal warts.  Ffynnon Dwynwen however, is the destination for romantics who believe that the eels in the well can prophesise whether their relationship will flourish or flounder.

Anglesey’s history across the centuries can be researched using the Commission’s map resources https://historical-atlas-of-anglesey-rcahmw.hub.arcgis.com/ which are in the process of being piloted and developed.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen has become an important date in the Welsh calendar and Dwynwen’s story has been the subject of Welsh poets such as Dafydd Trefor (c.1460-c.1528), Dafydd ap Gwilym (c.1320 – c.1380) and her story about how she became the Welsh saint of lovers has been written about by Iolo Morganwg. Along with the Welsh tradition, of the carved Welsh lovespoons, dating back to the 17th century, and which are often given as gifts of love on this day, both these ancient stories and traditions have developed into important elements in Welsh culture and form an integral part of modern Welsh identity.

Bethan Hopkins-Williams, Public Engagement Officer, and Nicola Roberts, Communications Manager.

View of St Dwynwen's Church within its enclosure showing the cruciform plan of the church. Paul R. Davis Collection (2020).
View of St Dwynwen’s Church within its enclosure showing the cruciform plan of the church. Paul R. Davis Collection (2020).
Offerings left at St. Dwynwen’s Church, November 2023.
Offerings left at St. Dwynwen’s Church, November 2023.
Ffynnon Dafaden, a holy well alleged to cure warts. The spring flows into a natural basin. Paul R. Davis Collection (2020).
Ffynnon Dafaden, a holy well alleged to cure warts. The spring flows into a natural basin. Paul R. Davis Collection (2020).
Image of Ynys Llanddwyn Lighthouse taken by Douglas Hague author of our eBook , Lighthouses of Wales (1994).
Image of Ynys Llanddwyn Lighthouse taken by Douglas Hague author of our eBook, Lighthouses of Wales (1994).
Llanddwyn Priory engraved by Metcalfe after a print by the Brothers Buck (1742).
Llanddwyn Priory engraved by Metcalfe after a print by the Brothers Buck (1742).
Ynys Llanddwyn as depicted on the 2nd edition, six– inch Ordnance Survey map dated 1901, showing significant place names and monuments.
Ynys Llanddwyn as depicted on the 2nd edition, six– inch Ordnance Survey map dated 1901, showing significant place names and monuments.

Bibliography

  • Wales on this day, 366 facts you probably didn’t know, Huw Rees & Sian Kilcoyne (2022).
  • The Welsh Almanac, T.D. Breverton (2002).
  • ‘The Welsh island dedicated to love’The Welsh island dedicated to love – BBC Travel
  • The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales, John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008).
  • Cydymaith i Lenyddiaeth Cymru, Meic Stephens (1997).

25/01/2024

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