Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dydd Santes Dwynwen, Welsh Valentines' Day

January 25th is Dydd Santes Dwynwen [dith sants DOOIN-wen], the Day of Saint Dwynwen, the day of the Welsh patron saint of lovers and the broken hearted, the Welsh equivalent of Saint Valentine's Day.

One version of her story is that Dwynwen was a 5th century Welsh princess who fell in love with a prince called Maelon Dafodrill, but unfortunately her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else (in other versions she can't marry Maelon because she's going to be a nun). Dwynwen was so upset that she could not marry Maelon that she begged God to make her forget him. After falling asleep, Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who appeared carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice. God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen. Her first wish was that Maelon be thawed; her second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers; and third, that she should never marry. All three were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to religious service for the rest of her life.

Dwynwen founded a convent on Ynys Llanddwyn [inniss thlan-thwyn], which means "island of Dwynwen's church", off the west coast of North Wales, where a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage after her death in 465AD. Visitors to the well believed that the sacred fish that lived in the well could foretell whether or not their relationship would be happy and whether love and happiness would be theirs. Today, Dwywen's island is part of a British national reserve, with miles of walking trails, sandy beaches and the remains of a 16th century Tudor church stand on what is believed to be the site of the original church on the island.

Saint Dwywen's prayer is "Saint Dwynwen, We beseech thee, Comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect our companions. In your name, we seek to do the same. In your name, we choose love first. With the love of you, of Mary, and of Jesus Christ. Amen."

People in Wales and people of Welsh descent around the world celebrate Saint Dwynwen's Day by gifting cards, candy and flowers, special dinners, parties and all the same trappings of celebrations for Valentines Day.

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