Santes Dwynwen – Wales’ patron saint of love
Ah, l’amour. Or in Wales, rather, ‘Ah, cariad’
New Year can be a miserable time but in Wales many of us are feeling warm and fuzzy as Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen’s Day) approaches.
January 25 is the day that Welsh people honour our patron saint of lovers, Dwynwen. Dydd Santes Dwynwen is Wales’ answer to St Valentine’s Day and, in our opinion, it’s a much more moving story.
Who was Dwynwen?
Dwynwen was a Welsh princess, whose name means ‘she who leads a blessed life’. She was born in 5th century Brycheiniog (modern day Brecon Beacons) to King Brychan. King Brychan reportedly had 36 children, and Dwynwen was the most beautiful of his 24 daughters.
How did she become Wales’ patron saint of lovers?
Dwynwen fell hopelessly in love with a local boy named Maelon Dafodrill but King Brychan had already arranged a marriage for her to a Welsh prince. Dwynwen was distraught and ran into the woods to grieve for her lost love, praying for God to help her.
An angel came down and gave her a sweet potion that made her forget Maelon. The potion also turned Maelon into a block of ice, frozen in time.
God then granted Dwynwen three wishes. She wished for Maelon to be thawed; that God would help all true lovers; and, finally, that she would never ever have to marry. God granted Dwynwen her wishes and in return she took holy orders and established a nunnery on Anglesey’s Llanddwyn Island.
What happens on St Dwynwen’s Day?
The Welsh celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day in much the same way as Valentine’s, with cards, gifts and flowers. One notable difference is the presence of love spoons – intricately-carved, decorative wooden spoons – which are a gift of affection among Welsh people.
Love spoons date back to the seventeenth century but it is believed they were popular long before this date. Young men, particularly sailors on long voyages, would carve them for the sweethearts they left on shore.
Girls kept them as a love token and some possessed spoons from several different suitors! These sassy ladies would display them on the walls of their home as a status symbol.
Today, love spoons generally commemorate weddings, engagements, births and to celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day. They are also a nice memento of your visit to Wales and can be found in many souvenir shops across the region.
What to do on Santes Dwynwen Day
Celebrating with a special someone this year? North Wales is a seriously romantic place to cosy up with your significant other.
St Dwynwen’s most famous saying is ‘nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness’ so spread a little happiness with our suggestions for a romantic day:
1. Visit Llanddwyn Island
Llanddwyn is beautiful year-round but, as the place where Dwynwen lived out her life as a nun, there’s no better time to visit and relive her story.
Walking hand in hand along wild Newborough Beach with mysterious Llanddwyn in the distance is a really special experience.
The sloping, sandy beach is fringed by a scented pine forest that forms part of Newborough Nature Reserve. It’s home to a colony of red squirrels and the world’s biggest raven roost. Ravens might not be the loveliest of birds but they mate for life, which is pretty romantic in our book.
Walk out onto the island and follow one of the many paths that criss-cross the headland. At the centre you’ll find the atmospheric ruins of St Dwynwen’s Church, the exact spot Dwynwen is said to be buried.
Wander where you feet take you: seek out hidden coves dotted with dozing seals, see the semi-wild ponies that sometimes graze here and visit the old lighthouse with its magnificent views out across Caernarfon Bay.
And if your love life needs a nudge perhaps you could say a prayer at Dwynwen’s Cross or see your romantic future in Dwynwen’s Well (apparently a pair of enchanted fish will oblige)?
There’s a really magical feeling to the island and we guarantee you’ll leave feeling the love.
2. Pamper pals
A spa day is the perfect way to unwind and enjoy the company of your loved one and there are a great selection of relaxing retreats in North Wales.
For great views of Snowdonia and the Conwy Valley, head to Bodysgallen Hall and Spa near Llandudno. This secluded and luxurious country house has an excellent spa and a range of spa days and treatments for an intimate and relaxing special treat.
The Deganwy Quay Luxury Spa boasts jaw-dropping views of the Conwy Estuary and a great selection of treatments including a ‘Winter Escape’ spa day for two, perfect for couples.
Stations Leisure Spa at the Waterloo Hotel in Betws-y-Coed has a tempting thermal spa to unwind in, plus a selection of indulgent beauty treatments.
For serious St Dwynwen’s brownie points, why not make a weekend of it and combine your spa treat with an overnight stay?
3. Light my fire
Some thrill-seeking couples get their kicks out of pushing the boundaries. If it’s adrenalin that stokes your fire, North Wales is the ideal place to bring your partner in crime.
Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a red boiler suit… if you’re looking to seriously impress your loved one! Soar over an abandoned slate mine at high speed at Zip World in Snowdonia. It’s a unique way to declare your love and will certainly create a memory that lasts a lifetime!
Not a speed lover? Surf Snowdonia in Dolgarrog is the UK’s only man-made inland surf lagoon. Whilst it won’t be a scene from Here to Eternity you’ll certainly get chance to frolic in the waves and perhaps pick up some rad new skills.
Dydd Santes Dwynwen commemorates a timeless story of love lost and is the perfect excuse to cosy up and have a ‘cwtch‘ with the one who makes your heart flutter. Even if you don’t do anything else, be sure to wish the one you love a ‘Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus’ (you never know she might just be listening).