St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers

St Dwynwen (also known as St Dwyn or St Donwen) is thought to have been one of 24 daughters of King Bychan Bycheiniog of Anglesey and lived in the 5th century. A legend tells how Dwynwen fell in love with a young man called Maelon; there are two versions of their blighted love story – either she rejected his amorous advances, praying to God for help, or her father refuses permission for the lovers to marry and she prays to God that she can forget her love. An angel appears and gives Dwynwen a potion to give to Maelon, he drinks it and turns to ice. Dwynwen prays for three requests to be granted – that Maelon is released, that all true lovers find happiness and that she remains unmarried. Her prayers are answered and she retreats to the solitude of Llanddwyn Island, off the coast of Anglesey to become a hermit for the rest of her life.

In later centuries, Dwynwen became known as the patron saint of lovers and pilgrimages were made to her holy well on Llanddwyn Island. There, it was thought that the movements of fish living in the well could tell you if your lover was faithful or not – first the woman scattered breadcrumbs on the water, then laid her handkerchief on the surface – if the fish disturbed the handkerchief, her lover would be faithful.

During Tudor times, visitors would leave offerings at St Dwynwen’s shrine and it became one of the richest places of pilgrimage in the area. A large chapel was built in the 16th century on the site of St Dwynwen’s original chapel and its ruins can still be seen today (see the attached photo).

St Dwynwen is still considered to be the Welsh patron saint of lovers. She is celebrated throughout Wales on 25th January each year but the giving of cards, flowers and love tokens.

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