Dydd Santes Dwynwen: what is St Dwynwen’s Day in Wales, Saint Dwynwen story - is it the same as Valentine’s Day?

Saint Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers - and sick animals

(Image: HistoricUK)(Image: HistoricUK)
(Image: HistoricUK)

Today (25 January) is St. Dwynwen’s Day in Wales, a day which is comparable to Valentine's Day, though one which is not nearly as well recognised.

Saint Dwynwen, sometimes known as Dwyn or Donwen, is the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Slightly less romantically, she is also the patron saint of sick animals.

But who exactly was she, and how is St. Dwynwen’s Day celebrated? Here is everything you need to know about it.

Who is Saint Dwynwen?

Dwynwen is thought to have been the daughter of King Brychan Brycheiniog, who reigned in the fifth century., but since folktale and Celtic story components have been incorporated into her story, there are many different versions of it.

Depending on which version you follow, either a young man named Maelon Dafodrill falls in love with her, but she rejects his advances, or she is unable to wed him because her father opposed the union and had already given her to another man.

The latter scenario seems to line up more with the rest of the story, which says Dwynwen prayed that she would fall out of love with Maelon, distraught over her love for him and her inability to act upon it.

Her prayers are answered when she is given a potion by an angel, which resolves the issue in the simplest way possible: it turns Maelon to ice.

God, the story says, then grants Dwynwen three requests: the freedom of Maelon, that God look after all true lovers through her, and that she remain unmarried. As a token of her gratitude, Dwynwen then withdraws to the seclusion of Ynys Llanddwyn off the shore of Anglesey, becoming a recluse there until her death in AD 465

Before her death, Dwynwen researched the medicinal benefits of regional plants and was able to treat numerous illnesses for patients who travelled from all across Wales to see her.

During the Middle Ages, St. Dwynwen's Church on Ynys Llanddwyn developed into a significant shrine, with the holy well there becoming a destination for pilgrims. It was said that the movement of sacred fish and eels in its waters foretold lovers’ futures.

Unfortunately, in the centuries that followed, a suppression of devotions at the shrine led to the site quickly falling into a state of disrepair.

Is St. Dwynwen’s Day the same as Valentine’s Day?

St. Dwynwen’s Day is roughly equivalent to Valentine’s Day, though it is far from being as well-known as the February celebration of love, even in Wales.

That said, recent efforts to promote the holiday have made some ground. In the 1960s, Vera Williams, a student at University College, Bangor, commissioned four designs for St. Dwynwen's Day cards in the form of a "Welsh Valentine's Day" in an effort to reinvigorate the celebration of the holiday.

Local media embraced the concept, and by 2004, the 25 January commemoration as a holiday for Welsh lovers had gained enough traction that even Gwynedd Council was advertising it.

How is it celebrated?

A year earlier, the Welsh Language Board and Tesco collaborated to give away free St. Dwynwen’s Day cards in the supermarket’s Welsh stores.

The board also offered a number of alternative ways to celebrate the day, such as planning a gig with a love theme, hosting a singles night, cooking a special dinner, and maybe writing a love poem to be read at the local pub...

St. Dwynwen's Day continues to become more well-known and widely observed in recent years, with special events like concerts and parties, and the exchanging of Dydd Santes Dwynwen greeting cards is becoming increasingly common.

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