St Dwynwyns Day - The Welsh version of Valentines!
Those of you of a romantic ilk may already be making preparations for St Valentine’s Day. But did you know that Wales has its own patron saint of couples and her day is celebrated tomorrow, 25 January.
The tale goes that in the C5th on Anglesey, Dwynwyn, the daughter of King Brychan Brychiniog, fell head over heels in love with a young courtier named Maelon. Various versions of the story exist but for one reason or another she is unable to marry her man and is left heartbroken. The devout Dwynwyn prays to forget her love and an angel appears with a potion. Offered to Maelon he takes a drink and turns to ice. Dwynwyn turns to God again with three requests – that Mealon be thawed, that God will look after all true couples through her and that she may never have to marry. With these prayers answered Dwynwyn spends the rest of her days in solitude on Ynys Llanddwyn, a tidal island to the west of Anglesey.
During the middle ages her church and holy well on the site became a place of pilgrimage. It was said that the activity of the fish with the well reveals the destinies of lovers. One account is that if a woman looks in the well and the fish are active this means she has a faithful husband. Let’s hope for lots of fit fish this January!
Although not a recognised saint with the church, St Dwynwyn’s Day has gone through quite a revival in the last 10 years or so and is now once again celebrated widely throughout Wales. It is not too difficult to procure a St Dwynwyn’s Day card and of course you can always present your love with a traditional wooden carved Welsh love spoon.
The tradition of intricately carved spoons denoting the love and intention of one lover to another is not as old as the legend of St Dwynwyn, but does go back centuries all the same. Back in the 1600s, when young men obviously had too much time on their hands, they would carve spoons to present to the girl they wished to court. If the gift was well-received the lad had been found favourable and their status as a ‘couple’ would be accepted – the C17th version of updating your Facebook to ‘in a relationship’!
The more intricate the design, the deeper the love for the intended recipient and a well-crafted spoon also indicated practical skills that were beneficial in a husband. Different symbols within the design held their own meanings. There were the obvious symbols such as hearts for love, cross for faith and bell for weddings but many others as the craft developed. A carving of a ship offers hope for a smooth passage through life and a heart shaped bowl for a bountiful life. The more skilled craftsman would carve a cage with the number of wooden balls inside indicated the desired number of children.
There are quite a few craft studios throughout Wales that produce an increasingly wide variety of exceptional spoons for many different occasions. So the next time you come across some, take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship and choose one to present to the love of your life.
Overhaul for heritage attractions along the Cardigan Bay coast
It has been over 600 years since the original entrance to Harlech Castle has been in proper use, but now, thanks to a £6m project by Cadw in conjunction with the Heritage Tourism Project, visitors will soon be able to enter over a new bridge leading to this magnificent fortress. Today, the main section of the bridge is due to be lowered into position and the project seems to be on track for the bridge and new visitor centre to be open by Easter.
A World Heritage Site, Harlech Castle looms large over the town that developed around it and much of the castle, including the forbidding walls, remain. Making the most of the natural advantages of its position the castle appears to grow out of the cliffs and was almost impregnable. A 200ft stairway leads down from the castle to the base of the cliff where the sea used to reach. This all important supply route was no doubt of vital importance to the defenders and inhabitants of the castle during the seven year siege remembered in the song, now ingrained in Welsh Culture, ‘Men of Harlech’.
Another castle, where an even more extensive restoration is nearing completion is Cardigan Castle. It has been nearly 20 years since the castle has been properly open to the public, but a £12m restoration and redevelopment project has brought the castle back to life and it should be opening its doors this spring. It is hoped that this revamped heritage attraction and events venue will attract over 30,000 visitors during the first year and will continue to become a premier attraction in Wales. Reading about all they have done I would say that their optimism is not misplaced. Along with interpretation and heritage exhibition spaces, the regency garden has been recreated and a restaurant featuring floor to ceiling glass as been built to make the most of panoramic views of the River Teifi.
Cardigan castle has a long and varied history from its founding in the C12th century, to medieval battles between Welsh rebels and the Norman rulers, to being in private hands up until the 1990s. It is also reported to be the site of the very first Eisteddfod (a festival of poetry and music) when Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth (ruler of a number of territories in South West Wales) held his court there in 1176. Moving forward 839 years, over 3,000 daffodils have been planted in the grounds so there should soon be a profusion of colour from the national flower adorning the site.
The castle is not the only impressive heritage attraction that the Cardigan area has to offer. As well as some other historic buildings in the town, especially The Guildhall, just a mile down the river is St Dogmaels, a lovely village home to C12th abbey ruins, accompanying visitor centre and museum and water mill in full working condition. Well worth a visit in my opinion. I must admit that I haven’t been for a couple of years but when I went with my daughter and parents we had a wonderful afternoon exploring the abbey remains, perusing the collections and exhibitions in the museum and indulging in gorgeous cakes from the café in the visitor centre. We were also lucky enough to be there when the parish church of St Thomas, adjacent to the abbey, was holding its annual flower festival and some of the arrangements were spectacular.
I hope that this year more people than ever before will experience the historical delights of the Cardigan Bay coast as there is so much to discover and enjoy and there is plenty of room for everybody!