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.