Today is a very special day for lovers in Wales. It is the feast of St Dwynwen (Llanddwyn in Welsh), who is regarded by many as the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine – the patron saint of lovers. Today (25 January) is her feast day, and is often celebrated by the Welsh with flowers and cards.
I’ve always loved the Isle of Anglesey (or, to give it its Welsh name, Ynys Mon) - so much so that for the past twenty-odd years it has been my second home.
As well as boasting a rugged natural beauty, Anglesey is also steeped in history and folklore. So when I was looking for a setting for my forthcoming novel Never on Saturday, Anglesey was the obvious choice.
Never on Saturday is a paranormal time-slip romance novella, set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales. And one of the key scenes in the novel takes place at one of Anglesey’s most picturesque locations: Llanddwyn Island.
Llanddwyn Island (in Welsh: Ynys Llanddwyn) is a remote rocky promontory, about a mile long, situated at the south-west corner of Anglesey, and forms part of the Newborough Warren nature reserve. It is not, strictly speaking, an island, although if the tide is exceptionally high, as can be seen in this photo, it can become one for a few hours:
According to tradition, the original Dwynwen was a fifth-century Welsh princess, one of the daughters of Brychan, a prince of Brecon. She fell in love with a young chieftain named Maelon, but rejected his advances. The reasons for this vary according to which version of the story you read, but the popular belief is that either Maelon tried to seduce Dwynwen before they were married, or that Dwynwen’s father had plans for her to marry someone else. But whatever the reason, the outcome was the same: Dwynwen prayed to be released from her doomed love affair.
In answer to her prayer Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who instructed her to concoct a potion which would dispel all thoughts of love. One source tells that the potion was made from rare herbs from Newborough Forest, mixed with a lover’s tears and beads of dew from the petals of the snapdragon. She and her lover both drank the potion, at which point Dwynwen immediately forgot her love for Maelon. Maelon, unfortunately, fared rather worse: he was transformed into a block of ice.
The angel appeared to Dwynwen again and granted her three wishes. Dwynwen’s first wish was that Maelon should be restored to life. Her second wish was that she herself should never again wish to marry, and her third wish was that all faithful lovers should find true happiness. She then retreated to what is now Llanddwyn Island and spent the rest of her life in isolation.
Meanwhile, Maelon was restored to life in accordance with Dwynwen’s wish, and the spot where the block of ice had stood, according to tradition, became a spring of clear water. This spring became St Dwynwen’s Well, and it soon became a popular place of pilgrimage for lovers. It was said that a woman could test the fidelity of her lover by scattering breadcrumbs on the water then laying her handkerchief on the surface. If the handkerchief was disturbed by one of the eels living in the well, this foretold that the lover would be faithful.
The place of pilgrimage was so popular that during Tudor times it became the richest in the area, and in the early sixteenth century a church was built on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel. Sadly, the church fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, but its remains can still be seen today.
As to what happens on Llanddwyn Island in Never on Saturday, and why it is pivotal to the story, all will be revealed on 9 February 2017. Click here to find out more...