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Article The Strange
Love Story of St. Dwynwen (c) 2010-2012 by Edie Stone.
Use with permission and website citation.
Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh Patron
Saint of Lovers
by Edie Stone
- Return to Celtic Spirituality: http://www.ediestone.com/exploringcelticspirituality.html
- My apologizes if your browser displays lots of ? marks
within diamonds. That is a new problem with Sea Monkey's code.
I have informed them of the issue.
- The artist of this often-used image of Dwynwen's vision
and the body of Wales is possibly Isabel Widdowson.
Saint Dwynwen's Day in Denver,
January 25, 2014 - Dydd Santes Dwynwen
Note: Edie Stone helps produce an evening of folk traditions
for the Colorado Welsh Society every year on a Saturday near St.
Where will you find a saucy wassailing horse skull, folk dancers,
ancient myths and recent ballads, a Welsh nun who is a patron saint
of lovers, storytelling, apples stuck with ribbons, a mythic Druid
mummers play, and a potluck? Only at Dwynwen’s Day Welsh Fest.
Learn about Dwynwen, the unlikely Welsh matron saint of lovers, and
Mari Lwyd, the mysterious Grey Mare. And of course, drink some good
The Colorado Welsh Society (CWS) presents this mini-festival of
Welsh culture on Saturday, January 25, 2014, in celebration of St.
Dwynwen’s Day. Welsh folk traditions will be shared in a fun,
The Welsh Fest will be held at The
Kirk of Bonnie Brae, 1201 South Steele Street, Denver, 80210. Doors
at 5:30, potluck at 6:00, followed by the program at about 7 pm.
Free and open to the public. (Donations gratefully accepted.)
We will learn about Calennig, a Welsh New Year's custom of
decorating apples and going wassailing. You will be able to make a
calennig apple if you wish. Bring bits of ribbon, lacy edging, or
little bells, if you have some.
Rowan Grove and G.R. Grove will delight listeners with storytelling
The CWS Folk Dancers will teach the audience an easy dance.
The Mari Lwyd will join the party, fresh from wassailing in South
And we welcome back, for a special performance this year, members of
the Silver Branch Golden Horn Grove of the Denver Druids (ADF), the
Mountain Ancestors Protogrove of Boulder Druids (AFD), and members
of CWS Language Classes. They will mime a mythic mummers play. The
play is written by Gwernin, author, poet, and resident bard, from
tales in the Mabinogion.
Reservations not necessary, but for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org and
put Dwynwen? in the
Visit the Colorado
Welsh Society on Facebook for more about Welsh activities in
The Colorado Welsh Society is a state-wide, non-profit 501c3
organization, dedicated to promoting an appreciation of Welsh
culture and heritage, and to providing educational opportunities
to learn about Welsh culture, history, and
language. The next event will be a St. David’s Day
program, in early March.
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The Strange Love Story of St.
by Edie Stone
St. Dwynwen, as a patron saint of lovers, is the Welsh equivalent of
St. Valentine. January 25, her feast day, is celebrated with
cards, flowers, and poetry. In recent years, there has been a
revival of interest in her legend. (Image: A St. Dwynwen
card by Draenog Design on Slate Valley Museum blog.
Cariad means love.)
St. Dwynwen was the daughter of
5th century Welsh saint and king, Brychan Brycheiniog. She was
in love with Prince Maelon Dafodrill, but her father refused this
match and promised her to another. Some say that Dwynwen fled
to the woods in grief, others say that Maelon chased her and tried
to seduce or rape her.
Dwynwen, in anguish, begged God to help her forget Maelon. In
a dream or vision, an angel came to her and gave her a potion which
eased her heartache. It also had the surprising effect of
turning Maelon into a statue of ice.
Images: Dwynwen in Castle and Maelon on
Ice. Child artist unknown.
Dwynwen was also given three wishes. First, she wished that Maelon
be thawed. She also wished that she never fall in love again
or marry, and that God would answer all her prayers on behalf of
lovers. Lovers who invoked her either found true love or were
cured of their lovesickness.
Llanddwyn by WellHopper 2012
Dwynwen became a nun and established a convent
on Llanddwyn Island, a small jut of land off the coast of Anglesey
in north-west Wales. Her holy well became a site of
pilgrimage and divination for hopeful or forlorn lovers. The
movements of an eel would reveal the lovers’ future relationship,
and if the water moved a lot, they would be particularly
Dwynwen's Well above the sea. Image by WellHopper 2012.
One pilgrim to St. Dwynwen’s island was the renowned medieval Welsh
poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym. He invoked her aid in helping him to
seduce a married woman, surely an odd role for a saint. Dangos
o'th radau dawngoeth / Nad wyd fursen, Ddwynwen ddoeth. “Prove, by
your gifts of splendid grace that you are no prim virgin, prudent
Dwynwen,” he wrote. [See my new article, The Saint and the
Seducer, about Dafydd and Dwynwen below]
St. Dwynwen also gained a reputation for healing sick animals, a
tradition which has survived in parts of Wales to the present time.
Gifts from grateful lovers and pilgrims made Llanddwyn a rich area,
and in the Tudor era a lovely chapel was built on the site of the
original chapel. It now stands in ruins.
The Reformation suppressed but did not eliminate many of the
traditions of the saints. The legend of St. Dwynwen was
revived in the late 18th Century by Iolo Morgannwg, who probably
elaborated details. But there was a continuity of the folk
tradition throughout the centuries. Because of the remoteness of the
area, local customs of divination persisted on Llanddwyn, and there
was a “woman of the well” giving readings even in the 19th
The current interest in St. Dwynwen is part of a growing revival of
interest in Welsh culture, language, and folk traditions.
Ruins of St. Dwynwen's Church on Llanddwyn Island, 2007.
Image from Wikipedia Creative Commons, by
Older roots? Celtic Goddesses and
There are aspects of the legend of Dwynwen that may point to an even
earlier layer of Celtic mythology. Throughout the British
Isles, there are sacred springs, holy wells, and other sacred sites
that are dedicated to female saints. In many cases, there was
a goddess associated with these locations in the centuries before
the Christian era.
St. Brigid is the most famous figure whose
imagery and symbolism arise from the mythology of a
and are carried forward and integrated into the life and legends
of a saint. Brigid was the step-daughter of a Druid, a
friend of St. Patrick, and the founder of a monastery in Kildare,
Ireland. Both goddess and saint were renowned as healers,
and the water of Brigid’s sacred well attracts many pilgrims and
visitors every year. Like St. Dwynwen, St. Brigid was known
as a protector and healer of livestock. Brigid, both as
goddess and saint, had a special role in women’s lives as the
patron of midwives and protector of childbirth. (Perhaps St.
Brigid’s services were more needed after lovers’ prayers to St.
Dwynwen were answered?) Well of St. Brigid at
Kildare. Source: Megalithic Ireland.
St. Brigid is San Ffraid in Welsh. She was honored with
several churches in Wales named Llansanffraid. Her feast day
is February 1, which was the old Celtic festival of Imbolc.
This is so close to St. Dwynwen’s day of January 25, that one can
only wonder if there is a connection.
St. Dwynwen was not the only early Celtic saint to experience
difficulties from an ardent suitor. Brigid as a young woman
was nearly forced into a marriage -- she blinded herself in one eye
so as not to be attractive. She later miraculously healed
herself. (Many Celtic holy wells are associated with eye
The soft, green, healing energy of the feminine is embodied
in St. Winifred's Well near Woolston in Shropshire. Photo by Edie
Stone (c) 2008.
When St. Winifred (Gwenfrewi in Welsh) refused to marry a prince
named Caradoc, he pursued her and cut off her head. A fountain
burst forth when her head touched the earth. Fortunately, her uncle
St. Beuno was able to bring her back to life. She founded a
convent at Holywell, near Whitford. Pilgrims and tourists
still visit her sacred waters.
The image of the severed head may harken back to ancient Celtic
traditions in which skulls and heads held prophetic and healing
powers. Even in the Christian era, skulls, usually the relic
of a saint or hero, were often kept at holy wells for use by
pilgrims as drinking cups.
St. Non, the mother of the patron saint of Wales, Saint David (Dewi
in Welsh), was also attacked by a suitor. She was raped by
Sant, King of Ceredigion. She gave birth near a spring about a
mile from the present site of St. David’s Cathedral on the west
coast of Wales. Her holy well has been revered for
centuries. Again, the waters were famous for curing eye
Non and Her Well. Painting by the late
Visit http://www.monicasjoo.com to keep her legacy alive.
There are other aspects to Dwynwen’s legend that suggest
similarities to classical mythology. Like the Roman goddess
Diana, Dwynwen’s symbol was the crescent moon, and she carried a bow
of destiny. Also like Diana, she had to struggle to maintain
her chastity. But on the other hand, Dwynwen’s magic belt or
girdle was similar to the Cestus of Venus. Celtic deities
often embodied contradictory qualities. Whether there was a
Celtic goddess who embodied these images, or whether these are
elements added by Iolo Morgannwg, I don’t know.
There is a pattern in ancient Greek mythology of goddesses who were
raped or seduced by male gods. This pattern arose in the era
when matriarchal, earth-centered cultures and their goddess shrines
were overrun and conquered by the patriarchal, Indo-European sky god
culture. Elements of the power of the goddesses survived in
local healing sites, springs, shrines, and legends.
Saints Dwynwen, Brigid, Winifred, and Non bear an archetypal
similarity to the earlier goddesses. The saints resisted the
patriarchal power of father or king, and were threatened or overcome
by their aggressive suitors. But each in their own way
triumphed over this disempowerment, maintained their integrity, and
founded communities. Their healing power and presence survive
in the healing qualities of their sacred wells.
Saint Who? Saint Dwynwen,
the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers ©2010 by Edie Stone.
Use with permission and website citation: http://www.ediestone.com/dwynwen-article.html
Mari Lwyd Begs for Food
photo ©2010 by Edie Stone
Calennig Apple photo
©2011 by Edie Stone
See the Colorado
Welsh Society's Facebook page for more about Welsh activities
Return to Celtic Spirituality page: http://www.ediestone.com/exploringcelticspirituality.html
Return to Edie Stone's main
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What’s this about a horse crashing the party??
Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, an ancient wassailing custom of South
by Edie Stone
Mari Lwyd is a wassailing custom which was common in the villages of
South Wales during Christmas, New Years, or Twelfth Night. It
nearly died out in the mid-twentieth century, but has been revived
by folk clubs and the Museum of Welsh Life, St. Fagan’s.
The custom of Mari Lwyd embodies images of death and rebirth, old
bones and fertility, hunger and plenty, begging and
generosity. It takes place at the turning of the year, when
hope and new light are reborn from midwinter darkness.
The Mari Lwyd is a horse’s
head, of bone, wood, or paper mache, which is set on a pole, covered
with a white sheet, and decorated with ribbons. It was worn by
a man and accompanied by a group of singers (sometimes also in
costumes, similar to a mummers play). They would sing at the
door of pubs or homes, demanding entry. The folks inside would
reply with verses of their own, in a fun and often insulting battle
of wits. Once admitted, the Mari Lwyd would bite and tease the
inhabitants, demand food and drink, and create much merriment.
A visit from the Mari Lwyd was believed to bring fertility and
prosperity to the inhabitants.
There is much speculation about the history and symbolism of this
strange custom. Some suggest that it originated in the Middle
Ages as a pageant in honor of Mary. (But why would anyone
honor Mary with a horse’s skull?)
Others believe that the Mari Lwyd is a remnant of an ancient Celtic
fertility custom. There is a similar white mare in Irish
legend, the Láir Bhán, [or Lair Bhan, with accents that may not
display in your browser] which appeared at Samhuin at the end of
harvest. (Samhuin marked the turning of the old year in the
ancient Celtic calendar, and evolved into Halloween). On the
Isle of Man, the Laare Vane appeared at harvest and Twelfth
Night. Other aspects of an ancient horse goddess appear in
legends of Macha in Ireland and Rhiannon in Wales, and in figures of
Epona from Gaul.
There are similar hooded horses and “Hoodening” customs in Kent
during the Christmas season. A white horse also appears in the
Soul Caking customs of Cheshire at Halloween. Both Hoodening
and Soul Caking contain themes of death and resurrection.
So at least at the symbolic level, and perhaps at the historic
level, there is a common thread of imagery at this time of darkness
in mid-winter: wandering white horses, bones and rebirth, hunger and
plenty, exclusion and welcome, a crossing of the bounds of propriety
and a renewal of community. The mysterious custom of Mari Lwyd
itself nearly died, but has been reborn ... just another turning of
Mari Lwyd, the Grey Mare, an Ancient Wassailing Custom
of South Wales ©2010-2014 by Edie Stone.
Use with permission and website citation:
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The Saint and the
Seducer: Dafydd ap Gwilym's Prayer to St. Dwynwen
A thousand broken hearts her power invoked.
Dafydd ap Gwilym was one of the great poets of the Middle Ages. An
older contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, he lived in the mid-1300s.
His poetry is still read, and he is revered as the foremost poet of
While he wrote many poems of praise for Welsh princes and patrons,
Dafydd ap Gwilym is most remembered for his love poetry and
descriptions of nature. You can visualize him like the troubadours
and their poems of courtly love, but more personal, passionate, and
bucolic. He expresses that Celtic sense of the presence of Spirit in
nature, along with youthful longing or hiraeth, and a
charming mixture of seductive arrogance and laughter at himself.
Sometime in the mid-14th Century, Dafydd visited the Abbey of St.
Dwynwen on Llandwyn Island/Peninsula. He was struck by the beauty of
a golden stature of Dwynwen, and wrote this poem, petitioning the
saintly nun to help him seduce Morfudd (pronounced More-veeth, the
subject of desire in several of Dafydd's poems).
In addition to petitioning Dwynwen to be a love messenger for a
year, he asks her to hold back Morfudd's husband's anger. He also
asks Dwynwen to heal the agony of his own swollen ... bosom ... so
that his life will not be futile.
The poet is well aware of the irony of petitioning a saint to help
him seduce a married woman. So he goes to great length to assure
Dwynwen that because of her own chastity, devotion, and prudence,
she won't be harmed or cast from heaven for aiding him in his
deliverance from love-agony. What nerve! What complexity of thought
and language! What seductive sweetness! No wonder the Welsh still
love this poet.
I have just discovered a wonderfyl resource,
http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/, which has a complete collection of
Dafydd ap Gwilym's poetry, in Cymraeg and English, with other
resources including audio of the spoken Welsh, and MS images.
Galw ar Ddwynwen
(do not worry, the translation is below)
Dwynwen deigr arien degwch,
Da y gwyr o gor fflamgwyr fflwch
Dy ddelw aur diddoluriaw
Digion druain ddynion draw.
Dyn a wylio, gloywdro glan,
Yn dy gor, Indeg eirian,
Nid oes glefyd na bryd brwyn
A el ynddo o Landdwyn.
Dy laesblaid yw dy lwysblwyf,
Dolurus ofalus wyf.
Y fron hon o hoed gordderch
Y sydd yn unchwydd o serch,
Hirwayw o sail gofeiliaint,
Herwydd y gwn, hwn yw haint,
Oni chaf, o byddaf byw,
Forfudd, llyna oferfyw.
Gwna fi yn iach, wiwiach wawd,
O'm anwychder a'm nychdawd.
Cymysg lateirwydd flwyddyn
A rhadau Duw rhod a dyn.
Nid rhaid, ddelw euraid ddilyth,
Yt ofn pechawd fethlgnawd fyth.
Nid adwna, da ei dangnef,
Duw a wnaeth, nid ai o nef.
Ni'th wyl mursen eleni
Yn hustyng yn yng a ni.
Ni rydd Eiddig ddig ddygnbwyll
War ffon i ti, wyry ei phwyll.
Tyn, o'th obr, taw, ni thybir
Wrthyd, wyry gymhlegyd hir,
O Landdwyn, dir gynired,
I Gwm-y-gro, gem o Gred.
Duw ni'th omeddawdd, hawdd hedd,
Dawn iaith aml, dyn ni'th omedd.
Diamau weddiau waith,
Duw a'th eilw, du ei thalaith.
Delid Duw, dy letywr,
Del i gof, dwylaw y gwr,
Traws oedd y neb a'i treisiai,
Tra ddel i'm ol trwy ddail Mai.
Dwynwen, pes parud unwaith
Dan wydd Mai a hirddydd maith,
Dawn ei bardd, da, wen, y bych;
Dwynwen, nid oeddud anwych.
Dangos o'th radau dawngoeth
Nad wyd fursen, Ddwynwen ddoeth.
Er a wnaethost yn ddawnbwys
O benyd y byd a'i bwys;
Er y crefydd, ffydd ffyrfryw,
A wnaethost tra fuost fyw;
Er yr eirian leianaeth
A gwyrdawd y coethgnawd caeth;
Er enaid, be rhaid yrhawg,
Brychan Yrth, breichiau nerthawg;
Eiriol er dy greuol gred,
Yr em wyry, roi ymwared.
English Translation: Poem 48 - Galw ar Ddwynwen
Appealing to Dwynwen
Dwynwen, whose beauty is like hoar–frost tears,
from a chancel filled with blazing candles
well does your golden image know how to cure
grievous, wretched men yonder.
Whoever keeps vigil (a fair, radiant respite)
in your chancel, dazzling Indeg,
there is no sickness or heavy mind
which he'll bear within him from Llanddwyn.
Your humble flock is your holy parish,
I am sorrowful and full of care.
Because of longing for a lover
this bosom's all swollen with passion,
a long agony whose base is anxiety,
since I know (a true affliction)
that if I can't have Morfudd
(if I remain alive), my living will be futile.
Heal me (praise of a worthy lineage)
of my infirmity and feebleness.
For one year combine the role of love–messenger
to the girl with God's graces.
Unfailing golden image,
you need never fear sinful, ensnaring carnal desire.
God, whose peace is good, will not undo
what He has done, you won't leave heaven.
No strumpet will see you this year
whispering with us in adversity.
The angry, cruel–minded Jealous One
will not beat you with a stick, chaste–minded maid.
Go forth — because of your worthiness (keep silent)
no one will suspect you, virgin of a great host —
from Llanddwyn (a sure journey)
to Cwm–y–gro, gem of Christendom.
God did not reject you (an easy peace) —
boon to a whole nation — nor will man reject you.
Prayers' unerring work,
God will call you, maid with the black wimple.
May God, your host
(let that be borne in mind), restrain the husband's hands —
anyone who might seek to ravish her would be cruel —
as she follows me through the leaves of May.
Dwynwen, if you caused her to come once
under the boughs of May, and ensured a long summer day
(her poet's boon), good on you, fair maid;
Dwynwen, you were never wretched.
Show with your splendidly endowed graces
that you're no strumpet, prudent Dwynwen.
For all the earthly penance and its burden
that you did, replete with grace;
for the devotion (steadfast faith)
that you displayed whilst you were alive;
for the resplendent maidenhood
and the chastity of the fair captive flesh;
for the sake of the soul (if need be now)
of Brychan Yrth of mighty arms;
intercede, by your bleeding faith,
chaste darling, for my deliverance.
CREDITS and RESOURCES
Great gratitude to
There is also an audio of the spoken Welsh at
B&W image of statue of Dafydd ap Gwilym from a wonderful blog on
the Measures of Welsh Poetry, Warwick blogs, by Zoe Brigley
Dafydd deeply developed the Cywydd form.
Ian Taylor's site, Well Hopper: Exploring the ancient holy well
and healing wells of North Wales is at
http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/tag/healing-wells/ - Gorgeous
photography and informative descriptions.
The blog at
discusses Dwynwen's Day and other customs. They have a couple of
nice videos of the song Calon Lan, including a lovely American
version from Green Mountain College Choir.
This just in ... you can view a livelier, more poetic version, that
gets to the gist of the matter, by Giles Watson at http://www.flickr.com/photos/29320962@N07/6727731449/in/photostream/