Once upon a time -- around the year 400, actually -- a princess
was born. According to the legends, Princess Dwynwen grew up to be
the most beautiful and spirited of the 24 daughters of King Brychan
Brycheiniog, founder of a medieval kingdom in what is today the
Brecon Beacons of South Wales.
Powerful, wealthy and stunning to behold, Dwynwen lived a
charmed life, until she fell in love with . . . (ominous
music here) . . . the wrong man.
She stood up to her father, and it ended
You see, as is the case with princesses throughout history,
Dwynwen's father had planned to
marry her off in a political deal, to gain power by joining with
another kingdom. Dwynwen objected to the plan, for her heart belonged to
Maelon, a local man, who (as we shall see) was no prince.
When Maelon heard of the king's plan to marry off Dwynwen to
another, wickedness seized his heart. He attacked the girl.
Heartbroken and alone, she prayed
Devastated, Dwynwen fled to a sacred oak grove, fell to her
knees, and prayed to God to release her from her love for
Maelon. She cried herself to sleep. In Dwynwen's dream, so
the story goes, an angel appeared to her, carrying a sweet potion.
Still asleep, the girl drank the potion, which magically turned
Maelon into a block of ice.
Upon awakening, Dwynwen was filled with compassion for Maelon,
despite his crime. She prayed to God to reverse the curse.
According to the legend, God then granted Dwynwen her three ardent
wishes: to thaw Maelon, to keep Dwynwen herself from ever marrying,
and to safeguard the fates of true lovers all through time.
From crying girl to virtuous saint: a life of good works
As a mark of her gratitude, Dwynwen devoted the rest of her life
to God. She travelled the length of Wales, settling on the tiny
island off the coast of southwest Anglesey. With her hands she
gathered stones and built a church, say the legends, on an
outcropping facing the sea. The island is now known as Llandwyn
("the parish of Dwynwen").
A small village grew up around the church, where
Dwynwen prayed and taught. She also studied the local plants and
herbal healing traditions, and soon people came to believe that
Dwynwen had special healing powers.
Her reputation spread, and people from across the land travelled
to meet her, to pray with her, and to be healed. Ever since then,
she's been known as Santes (or "Saint") Dwynwen, and the Welsh
celebrate her feast day on 25th January, known as the
Welsh version of Valentine's Day.
Her reputation lives on
Across the centuries that followed her, people still believed in
the power of Dwynwen's island. Around 1380, the poet Dafydd ap
Gwilym visited. He later wrote about how he prayed there,
requesting the saint's help in winning his love, a married
Around the year 1500, the poet Dafydd Trefor wrote this
description of the miraculous healings that took place at the holy
Crowds on the edge of the seashore:
Girls from various regions,
An innumerable myriad of men are to be found [there]
Sick people, cripples and the weak bustling between the holy wells,
Hill slopes [covered with people] like a king's army,
People from the countryside, everyone on his knees,
Wax tapers, candle wicks for health of mind,
Pipes of wine, everyone with his candle,
Shirts covered in stains nearby,
A miracle as the dead are resurrected!
Eels can predict your future?
Today some people believe that Dwynwen's well, still located on
the island, can determine the fate of lovers. They say that sacred
eels swim there, whose movements, when properly interpreted, can
even predict the future. And if the well water boils during your
visit, then you're guaranteed to find love and good
Nearly 1700 years after the saint's life, Ynys
Llanddwyn remains a powerfully spiritual place. Surrounded by the
Irish Sea on three sides, this island is home to whaling seals,
chattering seabirds, and carpets of colourful flowers.
So if you visit today, walking a half mile toward the island
along stunning Newborough Beach, you'll encounter the place almost
exactly as Dwynwen did, all those years ago. And you can imagine
how the incomparable beauty of this place gave Dwynwen the strength
to turn heartbreak into healing.