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The Legend of Llanddwyn Island: St. Dwynwen

© Graham Howells

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To get to Llanddwyn Island, head for Newborough Warren and Newborough Beach. By car:  Take the A55 to the junction for Gaerwen. Turn right at the roundabout, drive through the village and turn left turn onto the B4419 (signposted Newborough). Travel along for approximately 8 miles until you come to the village of Newborough. Follow signs to the Beach/Traeth. 

Access and Parking: There are four main access points to the reserve and four car parks. (Vehicle access costs £3.) There is a good network of footpaths within the reserve, though most are of soft sand and are uneven. Public Transport: The no. 42 bus service serves Newborough village. Contact Traveline Cymru on 0871 2002233 or visit Facilities: The Forestry Commission operates both accessible toilets in the main beach car park and an unstaffed museum on the island (summer only). Please note:  Ynys Llanddwyn is tidal and is cut off for a few hours each day

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 badly

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 © Jakub Krechowicz | Dreamstime.comobjected 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 and healing

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").

© Wong Chee Yen | Dreamstime.comA 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 woman. 

Around the year 1500, the poet Dafydd Trefor wrote this description of the miraculous healings that took place at the holy well:


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 luck.

Llanddwyn island; © Jean WilliamsonNearly 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.

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