Who Was St Dwynwen and How is She Associated with St Valentine?

Who Was St Dwynwen and How is She Associated with St Valentine?

(Read the article on one page)

Dylan Foster Evans /The Conversation

February 14 is the day marked for lovers in many countries around the world, but in Wales there is another date traditionally associated with romance: St Dwynwen’s Day, January 25.

Dwynwen – pronounced [ dʊɨnwɛn] – was the daughter of an early medieval king who became the Welsh patron saint of lovers. As you might expect, she has her own love story – although it’s not quite what we today would consider a romantic one.

As the earliest version of her tale goes, Dwynwen was deeply in love with a young man called Maelon Dafodrill, but when she rebuffed his premarital sexual advances, he became enraged and left her. Saddened and fearful, Dwynwen prayed to God, and soon enough her former suitor’s ardour was decisively cooled – he was turned into a block of ice. And for rejecting Maelon’s untimely advances, God allowed Dwynwen three wishes.

St. Dwynwen meets an angel.

St. Dwynwen meets an angel. ( FREE to use Clipart )

Her first wish was that Maelon should be defrosted at once. The second was that her prayers on behalf of “all true-hearted lovers” should be heard, so that “they should either obtain the objects of their affection, or be cured of their passion”. Her final wish was that she should never have to marry; she is said to have ended her life as a nun at the isolated church named after her, Llanddwyn, on the island of Anglesey.

Crosses on Llanddwyn Island.

Crosses on Llanddwyn Island. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Creating a Legend

Although it echoes other medieval saints’ lives, Dwynwen’s story only appeared for the first time in the writings of the self-taught polymath Edward Williams (1747-1826), better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg . Now Morganwg, depending on your point of view, was either a creative literary genius or a shameless forger. Either way, it seems certain that Dwynwen’s story is not medieval at all, but rather a product of Morganwg’s vivid imagination.

However, Dwynwen may well have been a real woman: she is mentioned in early genealogies as one of the numerous saintly daughters of the semi-legendary fifth-century king, Brychan Brycheiniog . Part of a Latin mass from the early 16th century states that she walked on water from Ireland to escape the clutches of the Welsh king Maelgwn Gwynedd – although fleeing to Ireland might have been a better plan.

The church of Llanddwynwen or Llanddwyn in the 18th Century.

The church of Llanddwynwen or Llanddwyn in the 18th Century. ( National Library of Wales )

Our knowledge of the cult of Dwynwen is mainly based on two Welsh-language poems. The most famous was composed by medieval Wales’s greatest poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym , around the middle of the 14th century, and was certainly known to Morganwg. In it, the amorous poet calls for Dwynwen’s assistance as a “llatai”, or love-messenger, for him and his married lover Morfudd. Aware that his actions are, to say the least, morally dubious, Dafydd promises the saint that she won’t lose her place in heaven by helping the lovers. Indeed, ensuring that his back is at least metaphorically covered, he also calls on God himself to keep Morfudd’s interfering husband from interrupting the lovers in their woodland trysts.

The other poem, by the priest-poet Dafydd Trefor, dates from around 1500 and describes the pilgrims that thronged to her church to see her image and to seek restoration from her holy wells. Their offerings ensured that the church grew wealthy although Dwynwen’s fame – inevitably – receded after the Reformation. But she never slipped into complete obscurity.

An imaginary portrait of medieval Welsh-language poet Dafydd ap Gwilym.

An imaginary portrait of medieval Welsh-language poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. ( Public Domain )

Modern Reworkings

Dwynwen’s re-emergence began in earnest when extracts from Morganwg’s manuscripts were published with English translations in 1848. As a result, her story slowly but surely gained a foothold in the Welsh imagination. In 1886, for instance, composer Joseph Parry wrote the music for “ Dwynwen”, a rousing chorus for male voice choirs. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Welsh newspapers in both languages would occasionally relate the story of the “Celtic Venus” .

In the 1960s, as the commercialisation of St Valentine’s Day continued apace, the first St Dwynwen’s Day cards were produced in Wales. Yet unlike her ice-melting prototype, the modern Dwynwen proved to be a slow burner. Indeed, by 1993 a commentator stated that attempts to create a Dwynwen tradition were withering away.

Comments

angieblackmon's picture

I’ve never heard this story before. They’re right, it is kinda a sad love story, but i suppose they can’t all be happy. That’s not the way of the world. 

love, light and blessings

AB

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Concept art of Queen Anne’s Revenge, based on the Pirates of the Caribbean prop for ‘The Black Pearl’
History records Blackbeard as one of the most notorious pirates; but his early years weren’t as infamous or inglorious. Edward Teach, the man who would later become the pirate known as Blackbeard, had a relatively normal childhood. His criminal lifestyle that brought him fame later in life wasn’t fueled by exposure to a sketchy upbringing.

Myths & Legends

A vase-scene from about 410 BC. Nimrod/Herakles, wearing his fearsome lion skin headdress, spins Noah/Nereus around and looks him straight in the eye. Noah gets the message and grimaces, grasping his scepter, a symbol of his rule - soon to be displaced in the post-Flood world by Nimrod/Herakles, whose visage reveals a stern smirk.
The Book of Genesis describes human history. Ancient Greek religious art depicts human history. While their viewpoints are opposite, the recounted events and characters match each other in convincing detail. This brief article focuses on how Greek religious art portrayed Noah, and how it portrayed Nimrod in his successful rebellion against Noah’s authority.

Human Origins

Cro-Magnon man communicating with each other and producing cave drawings
How human language began has been a question pestering researchers for centuries. One of the biggest issues with this topic is that empirical evidence is still lacking despite our great advances in...

Ancient Technology

The School of Athens
Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?

Ancient Places

Artist’s representation of the sealed door of Vault B at Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Ropes of gold several meters long, Napoleonic coins, Venetian jewelry, diamond belts, emeralds the size of ostrich eggs, and barrels of golden rice…these are just some of the treasures said to have been hidden within Padmanabhaswamy Temple. But insufferable dangers may also be lurking for those who dare to open the temple’s mysterious sealed door. Would you take the risk?

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article