Romance is in the air…or is it the smell of freshly baked cakes? The team at the Pavilion tea room are preparing to lay on a special St Dwynwen’s Day menu on Friday to celebrate the Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day.
St Dwynwen’s Day is marked on January 25th and commemorates the Welsh patron saint of lovers and friendship. Dwynwen’s is a rather poignant tale; her own romance thwarted, she pledged herself to spreading harmony in the world; a cause well worth celebrating, so let’s dust off the cobwebs from this forgotten heroine…
Back in the 5th Century, Dwynwen was reputedly one of the prettiest of the 24 daughters (yes, that is 24) of the king of Brecon. She fell in love with Prince Maelon but sadly her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else.
Heartbroken, Dwynwen fled to the woods, where she begged God to make her forget Maelon. On falling asleep she was visited by an angel who offered her a potion to grant her selective amnesia and to turn Maelon into a block of ice. For the cynics out there, in another version of the tale Dwynwen spurned Maelon’s (ahem) amorous advances and wanted a potion to wipe him from her memory!
On awaking, God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen; first she wished that Maelon be thawed and freed from his icy fate, second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers and third that she should never marry. All three of her wishes were fulfilled and Dwynwen devoted herself to God for the rest of her life.
She travelled to Anglesey where she founded Llanddwynwen Church on the island of Llanddwyn, now a nature reserve. Her name is still recalled today in local place names such as Llanddwyn and Porthddwyn. Apparently Dwynwen attracted many followers during her own lifetime and became known for the saying: “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness!” – not a bad motto to live by in any age.
Devotion to her cult grew rapidly after her death. The church at Llanddwyn became an important shrine during the Middle Ages when pilgrims would visit from afar as Europe and St Dwynwen’s Day became widely celebrated in Wales. Also on the island is Dwynwen’s Well where a sacred fish was said to bring couples together! But today we have Snog, Marry, Avoid on television, so who are we to judge?
The church fell into ruin following the Reformation, as did Dwynwen’s following. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that a plain cross was erected near the ruins of the church in memory of St Dwynwen in the 1870s (co-incidentally, around the time that Bodnant Garden’s founder Henry Pochin was planting the first of the great conifers in The Dell) and in 1903 a Celtic cross was erected which can be seen today.
In the end Dwynwen’s tale is not such a sad one – she fared better in the end than St Valentine, a Roman priest stoned and beheaded around 270AD for marrying Christian couples who were being persecuted under the Emperor Claudius.
And at last our heroine is finding a well deserved place in the Welsh calendar. The popularity of St Dwynwen’s Day has gradually increased in recent years, with the making and exchanging of cards, sometimes anonymously. You can even feel a little of the love at Bodnant Garden this St Dwynwen’s Day, especially in our Daisy’s famous cakes!
By gardener Fran Llewellyn