The Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers
‘Dwynwen deigr ariendegwch, Da y gwyr dy gor fflamgwyr fflwch.’
‘Dwynwen your beauty is like a silver tear, your choir is ablaze with candlelight’.
From a 13th Century poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym
Dwynwen was a Princess, one of twenty-four children sired by King Brychan Brycheiniog in the 5th Century. She lived on the Island of Anglesey and was loved and cherished as a child. Dwynwen, which translates as ‘To lead a white or blessed life,’ grew to be a beautiful and clever young woman.
Her Father, King Brychan, enjoyed the good things of life and his palace was a merry place where dancing and feasting often continued far into the night. Many young men would visit the court of King Brychan eager to win the hand of the beautiful Princess. Dwynwen would flirt and tease her suitors with gay chatter. She would listen to their proud boasts of bravery and dance with them until her legs ached. But, when the feasting and dancing were over, she would quickly lose interest in each new admirer.
One day a messenger arrived at the castle.
“The King of Gwynedd is to visit you, My Lord. It is a great honour,” said the messenger.
“And so it is,” replied the King. “Tell your master we shall have a royal banquet to celebrate his coming to my kingdom,” he added.
Plans were made for the great day when the two Kings would feast together. The finest cattle were slaughtered, poultry plucked and suckling pigs prepared for roasting. Sweet fruits were gathered and fine cheeses matured. The King commanded that his best wines were fetched from the cellars. Beer was brewed and the great hall made ready. Tables were laden until they groaned with the weight of the fine delicacies.
The King of Gwynedd and his entourage were greeted with pomp and ceremony. The banquet began. The King of Gwynedd had a son with him; Prince Maelon, who some called Maelon Dafodrill. Prince Maelon saw Princess Dwynwen and admired her beauty. He heard her gay laughter and resolved, at once, that he would marry her.
The Princess was quickly aware of his interest and toyed with his emotions. At first she pretended to ignore his advances. Then, she encouraged him with broad smiles and direct gazes into his eyes. Maelon became a lovesick puppy as she teased him. They danced together and, seizing the moment, he spoke.
He whispered as he held her.
“Dwynwen my Princess. I worship and love you like a goddess and I can feel your love burning for me. Shall I speak with your Father? Tell me you will be mine,”
Princess Dwynwen stiffened in his arms.
“Do not tease me Prince Maelon. We cannot marry. You have only known me for a few hours. Let us enjoy the evening and have no talk of love or marriage,” she replied.
The Prince refused to accept her answer and the following day he visited King Brychan.
“King Brychan, I wish to marry your daughter. We are in love and I ask you for her hand,” he said.
“But does she love you?” enquired the King.
“I am sure of it, My Lord. I saw the love in her eyes as we danced last night,” replied the Prince.
Princess Dwynwen was summoned and the question put to her.
“Do you love Prince Maelon?” asked the King.
“I do not,” answered the defiant Princess.
“There is your answer. Tomorrow you shall return to your own kingdom,” said the King, turning to Prince Maelon.
Bewildered and angry, the Prince withdrew but that night, his last chance to see Princess Dwynwen, he visited her in her chambers. True to her nature, she began to tease him once more, unaware of the dangerous passion she was arousing. The next morning the King of Gwynedd and his followers left. Prince Maelon had gone.
The young Princess felt ashamed and confused. She dare not tell her Father she had been raped: it would mean war. Dwynwen left the palace and wandered into the forest. She found a sunny glade with a small river where she lay down and fell asleep.
As she slept she dreamt that an angel appeared and asked why she was sad. In her dream, she replied that she hated Maelon and wanted him dead. She cried as she told the angel what the Prince had done. It was almost dark when she woke.
There was a great commotion when the Princess returned to the palace. News had come from Gwynedd; Prince Maelon had turned into a block of ice. Princess Dwynwen hurried to her chamber. Her heart was broken, for now she knew she loved the Prince.
That night the Angel from her dream returned.
“I beg you to release Prince Maelon from his ice prison,” she cried.
“I cannot release your Prince but I grant you three wishes. Use them well,” replied the Angel.
“Release Prince Maelon and let him live a good and honest life,” whispered the Princes.
“What are your other wishes?” asked the Angel.
“I pray that God will watch over and protect all true lovers and my last wish is that, in penance for my vanity, I may never marry,” said the Princess.
“You have chosen your wishes well,” said the Angel and vanished.
Prince Maelon thawed completely, recovered from the ordeal and went on to live a good life. He married and raised a family. Princess Dwynwen left the palace and moved to a small island where she built a chapel.
The Princess placed a golden statue in the chapel, kept lit with a hundred candles day and night. People travelled to the shrine in pilgrimage and pay Princess Dwynwen to pray for their souls. Nearby was a well where a strange eel lived. Women would come to ask Dwynwen if they had found true love. To answer their question, she sent them to the well where they threw bread on the water and covered it with their lover’s handkerchief. If the surface remained smooth the love was true but when the love was false and the man a cheat, the eel would devour the bread in a flurry of anger.
The Princess never married and when she died in 465 A.D. she was buried beneath the chapel she had built. Princess Dwynwen had paid for her vanity and lived a blessed life. She became the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her feast day is the 25th January. The chapel and the well are now in ruins but Llanddwyn, the island named after her, is still the perfect place to visit with your true love.