Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Welsh Valentine or Dwynwen the Saint

I came across the legend of this 5th century Welsh female saint called Dwynwen last week, who became a sort of Welsh 'Valentine'.
Her story goes that she was a daughter of Brychan, and as a virgin moved to Anglesey, where a young man called Maelon wished to marry her. Not so Dwynwen, and she prayed for deliverance, in her dream, she partook of a drink that cured of her longings for him (mmm) and turned poor Maelon to ice. Rather surprised by such a turn of events, Dwynwen prayed for three things, that Maelon was unfrozen; that all true lovers should succeed in their quest for love, or be cured of their passion and that she should never wish to become married - so obviously she was perfectly aware of temptation!, though there is another legend which states that she was turned down in love.
But be that as it may, she apparently built an oratory on the Island of Llanddwyn which is cut off from Maltreath Bay in Snowdonia, and which is the part of the story I am interested in. You can still see the ruins of the St.Dwynwen's Abbey and also the well named after her of which the following legend is told. Pilgrims coming to the small church would sprinkle breadcrumbs on the water of the well and covered them with a of piece cloth, now if the eel (who lived in the well) took the cloth as well as the breadcrumbs, the pilgrim's loved one was unfaithful. Another story, that if bubbles appeared during the ceremonies lovers would find happiness. Even late into the 19th century sick animals were brought to the well to be cured.
A rock shaped like a bed on the island called 'Gwely Esyth' if you slept on it would cure you of rheumatism, and another boulder on the edge of the cliff with a strange 'spy-hole' in it had opened up for the dying saint so that she might watch the last sunset over the Irish Sea.
Another tale tells of Treslian Cove, where unfortunately, at least for the Breton pirate, Colyn Dolphyn, who was buried up to his neck there to await the incoming tide, this time a huge fissure known as the cave of Dwynwen. There is a natural archway in the cave called the Bow of Destiny, and local people used to throw a stone before they passed over the arch, if it took ten years to throw a stone over the arch then it would take ten years before you got married!

refs; Photos taken from Creative Commons - Wiki;
The Book of Welsh Saints - T.D.Breverton ( a mine of information)

notes from Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics - Celtic

That monastic heads of the early celtic churches were nearly always related to one of the small ruling tribal kingships of Wales, of which Brychan (Brecon king) of course was notable, but also and that the "headship of these communities and participation in their property and privileges continued (even up to the 12th century) to be limited to those who, by means 0f their valid pedigrees, could show kinship with the founder."

1) population was also controlled by the insufficency of cultivable land.
2) Monasteries were largely centres of co-operative industrial activity, i.e.agricultural and other arts.
3) Lay interests probably had a larger place than the later Lives of Celtic Saints written under Benedictine influence
4) Early celtic monasteries were essentially a school - children were foster-children of the church, paid for of course.....
5) Eremites, or anchorites were a later stage of development. The year 595 ad movement was at its height.

Which of course is why we see the early storytelling tales of the female saints, as being somewhat contrived in the telling by the later Benedictine monks. Celtic female, of high birth status if she could not marry, was forced to become celibate and a nun, though Dwynwen seems to have 'chosen' a way out of marriage - unsuitable suitor?, or was there simply no other choice in early medieval society...


  1. Thelma,
    This is fascinating. I shall have to track down a copy of this book for myself. Loved the bluebell photograph by the way. Your posts are so interesting and varied and this blog is a 'must read' for me. Thanks. Lesley

  2. What an interesting post and lovely photos too. I've not heard of Dwynwen, but her father is known to me! I often wonder how much of these legends are based on truth? If so, poor Colyn Dolphyn!

  3. Hi to you both,
    I only came across the tale last week in this link about something else.....
    Her father Brychan, of course had umpteen children according to his story though some may have been grandchildren, many of them becoming saints. Was going to follow through with the celtic bit, but have been puzzling over turning Maelon into ice, which is something I've not come across before..
    You have to admit forcing sons and daughters into monastic houses so that they would become celibate is a good way of keeping the population down, much like the later Benedictine monks, etc!

  4. forgot to say Leslie, Amazon hunted the book down for me, and its a signed copy.....