St Dwynwen's Day is celebrated in Wales on 25 January. But who was St Dwynwen?
St Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, which makes her the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine.
As the legend goes, Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, and they wanted to marry, but her father refused consent due to arranging for Dwynwen to wed another suitor. In his anger about the rejection, Maelon raped and left Dwynwen.
Dwynwen's sadness impels her to console herself in the woods nearby. There she prays to God to rid her of her feelings for Maelon. Answering her prayers, an angel comes to Dwynwen in a dream, and gives her a potion to help her forget Maelon, and turn him into ice.
God then grants Dwynwen three requests. The first was to have Maelon thawed, the second was that God would look kindly on the hopes and dreams of true lovers, and her final request was that she was never to marry. Her wishes became true, and as thanks she devoted the remainder of her life to God.
Dwynwen then became a nun and she settled on Llanddwyn Island, which rests off the west coast of Anglesey. She died of natural causes around 460AD. The remains of the16th century Tudor church in Llanddwyn can be seen today although the site is attributed to that of the church founded by Dwynwen. The church and the nearby well has attracted pilgrimages by people over the centuries, particularly from young lovers seeking assurances of their future lives together.
The water of the well was said to be the home for a magical and sacred fish (or eel) whose behaviour and movement predicted the future for young lovers. Questions were asked of the fish and the answers were determined by the direction in which it moved. Women would test the faithfulness of their husbands by sprinkling breadcrumbs into the water and then placing a handkerchief on the surface. The husband would be deemed faithful if the fish disturbed the surface.
Traditionally, St. Dwynwen’s Day is celebrated by giving and receiving lovespoons. The Welsh lovespoon dates back to the 17th century when young men would carve them from a single piece of wood, decorate the handle with romantic symbols and then give them to the lady who had caught their eye. The earliest surviving example, dating from around 1667, is on display at the Welsh Folk Museum in St. Fagans, Cardiff. That shows they last a lot longer than the traditional rose for Valentine's day!