Friday, 24 January 2014

Santes Dwynwen

Forget Saint Valentine. Heck, it’s not even certain who the chap was (Valentine of Rome, Valentine of Terni,…?), but whoever he was, he wasn’t British.

Dwynwen, on the other hand, is a genuine British product, saved, yet again, thanks to the Welsh. (Honestly, where would Britain be without them?).

Saint Dwynwen was one of the daughters of the 5th century British king, Brychan Brycheiniog. Poor old Brychan had 24 daughters, but Dwynwen was said to be the prettiest and she fell in love with a local chappie named Maelon Dafodrill.

Brychan had other ideas, however, and had already promised his daughter to some other scoundrel. He therefore forbade the two lovers from seeing each other. In a fit of rage, Maelon raped Dwynwen (well that’s one story) and left her. She then prayed for help and an angel appeared and gave her a potion which she persuaded the dastardly Maelon to drink, immediately turning him into a block of ice.

Ever persistent, Dwynwen then prayed for three wishes, which were miraculously granted: her first wish was that Maelon be defrosted, as it were, and this wish was granted; her second was that God (she was a Christian and believed in that sort of thing, as people tended to do in those days) take care of all true lovers, and this wish was granted; her final wish was that she should never marry. This wish, too, was granted, in that Dwynwen moved to a nearby island and lived there as a hermit until her death in 465 CE.

The island on which Dwynwen lived is now known as Ynys Llanddwyn (Welsh for the island of the church of Dwynwen) and there one can still visit the ruins of a church dedicated to Saint Dwynwen (Ynys Llanddwyn is a tidal island off the west coast of Ynys Môn). Dwynwen’s well can also be visited on the island and there, allegedly, a sacred fish swims, whose movements predict the future fortunes and relationships the couples that contemplate it. Visitors to the well also believe that if the water boils while they are present, then love and good luck will surely follow.

Saint Dwynwen’s day (Dydd Santes Dwynwen), 25 January, is celebrated in Wales in much the same way as Valentine’s day is elsewhere. So this year, celebrate your love for someone in a truly British fashion with a "Happy Saint Dwynwen" or, even better, a "Diwrnod Santes Dwynwen Hapus!"