St Dwynwen's Day: Patron Saint of Lovers
Dydd Santes Dwynwen or St Dwynwen’s Day celebrates love and lovers and takes place every year on the 25th of January. Often referred to as the Welsh St Valentine’s Day, there's a heartbreaking love story behind this cherished saint, who holds a special place in Welsh hearts.
Wales' Patron Saint of Lovers
Saint Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers. The daughter of legendary king Brychan Brycheiniog who ruled Brycheiniog (Breconshire) in South Wales, Saint Dwynwen was a 5th-century princess, whose tragic experience in love, led her to dedicate her life to god, and lovers everywhere. One of her most famous sayings was, 'Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness' and her name is often translated, “She who leads a blessed life.”
A tragic romance
As with most Welsh history, the tale of Saint Dwynwen has been handed down the generations by word-of-mouth in the form of poems and songs, creating several versions of her story that tie in elements of Welsh folklore and Celtic mythology. Most versions though revolve around Dwynwen’s failed romance with a man or prince called Maelon Dafodrill.
Dwynwen was said to be the prettiest of King Brychan’s 24 daughters and her father had arranged a marriage for her. Dwynwen though had fallen in love with Maelon Dafodrill and wanted to marry him instead. When King Brychan said no to the union a distraught Dwynwen fled to the woods where she prayed to God for help. In her moment of desperation an angel appeared and gave Dwynwen a sweet potion that would help her forget her love for Maelon, but the moment she drank it, he was turned into a block of ice.
God then granted the devoted Dwynwen three wishes – either because she agreed to drink the potion, or as the result of her prayers after seeing what happened to her lover. The first was that Maelon would be thawed; the second was for God to help all true lovers, and the third was that she would never marry.
In thanks to God for granting her wishes, Dwynwen dedicated the rest of her life to his service and became a nun, thus fulfilling her promise never to marry. She retreated to North Wales and set up a convent on a remote corner of Ynys Môn (Anglesey).
Ynys Llanddwyn (Llanddwyn Island)
Ynys Llanddwyn is a small tidal island off the west coast of Ynys Môn, where Dwynwen is believed to have spent her life and is buried. Since the Middle Ages, it has been a place of pilgrimage and is steeped in legend, with Llanddwyn literally translating as “Dwynwen’s Church”.
You can still visit the ruins of St. Dwynwen’s Church, which is believed to have been built on the site of Dwynwen’s 5th-century convent. There’s also Dwynwen’s Well, which, according to legends, can predict whether your romantic relationship will be a success or failure. Not so romantic, this prediction is based on the behaviour of eels that apparently live in the well.
Even if you’re not as interested in St. Dwynwen’s tale, it’s worth a visit just for its rugged beauty. While it’s called an island, Llanddwyn is actually a peninsular and only becomes cut off from the mainland during very high tides. After exploring the island, head to its sandy beach with its iconic lighthouse, where you can enjoy incredible views out over Snowdonia and the Llŷn Peninsula.
How to celebrate
Similar to Valentine’s Day, St Dwynwen’s Day is celebrated by giving cards, gifts, and treats for those you love. It doesn’t just have to be romantic relationships either, and many exchange gifts with friends and family, as a reminder you care.
While it’s nowhere near as famous as 14th February, in Wales St Dwynwen’s feast day celebrations have been growing in recent years as we celebrate our very own patron saint of love. You don't have to be Welsh either, so this 25th January join in the celebration by spoiling your nearest and dearest!
Feeling filled with love? How about planning a magical proposal in one of Pembrokeshire's most romantic spots. Or, find out more about Welsh days of celebrations and our mythical past.