by Diane Woodrow, photo credit: visitwales.com
On 25th January many people in Wales will be celebrating Saint Dwynwen’s Day. This is the time for marriage proposals and, at least pre-covid, of romantic meals out. From little independent card makers to big supermarkets, St Dwynwen cards are being sold. She is the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine. But why?
The little that is known about Dwynwen is that in the 5th century she was betrothed to a prince called Maelon, but he tried to seduce her before they were married. She cried out to God to be released from loving Maelon, which was granted, and Maelon was turned to a block of ice. Dwynwen then prayed that Maelon would be restored, she would be allowed to live a chaste life and that God would allow her to intercede on behalf of other lovers. God granted all three things. But there has been a chapel to commemorate her on the tidal island of Llanddwyn, Anglesey since around the 11th century. In the fourteenth century a renowned poet wrote asking her to help him in love situation. By the fifteenth century so many crippled and love sick people came and left offerings for Dwynwen to intercede for them that Richard Kyffin, the rector at that time, was able to build himself a fine home and live like a noble man.
Of course with Reformation, the veneration of saints was curtailed but people found other ways and by Victorian times, 14th February and St Valentine was becoming known as the time for lovers. It was in the 1960s with the rise of the fight to preserve the Welsh language and Welsh traditions that Vera Williams decided to revived St Dwynwen.
The character in the story of Dwynwen had some awesome qualities that need to be remembered. Firstly, she would not marry a man who tried to manipulate or abuse her, even though he was prince. She knew he needed higher standards than just taking what he wanted when he wanted it. Are we willing to have clear boundaries and hold on to them within our relationships? And are we willing to not try to take things just because we want them?
Secondly, she had the grace to forgive her abuser and release him from being frozen. I wonder if “as a block of ice” is a metaphor for being cold or hard hearted? Dwynwen prayed that he would be free to no longer be cold or hard of heart I believe. Are we willing to let go of those who’ve hurt us? Especially if we could just leave them as they are?
Thirdly, it was not just that she wanted to then lead a chaste life but that she was willing to help and heal others who had been hurt by love, by relationships. It was not that she wanted everyone to be single like herself, but that she wanted them to be free to truly love with no hinderances.
It is interesting, too, that crippled people came to her shrine. I wonder how often we are crippled by relationships so much so that our daily walk is hindered? How often do relationships bring us to a point where we are not free to hold ourselves up right and to walk freely? I do wonder if there is a connection between hurt and abuse in relationships and being crippled bodily. We do have to remember that our minds, hearts and bodies are interlinked not separate parts. Perhaps those who came to Dwynwen’s chapel understood this and after they had made their offering and received prayer they were healed and able to walk tall and be all they were meant to be – as Dwynwen was.