The Legend of St Dwynwen – The Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers, and Shakespeare’s Inspiration?

Article by S. E. Morgan – Historical fiction author

In the decades after the Romans left British shores, the old gods vied with the new Christian religion. Saints were named, often when they founded a new churches. Missions sent from Christian kingdoms such as Brycheiniog, deep in the Welsh mountains.

Dwynwen was daughter of the Welsh ruler Brychan Brycheiniog. She was one of a reputed 24 children, although other versions suggest 24 daughters and 24 sons! They lived in Garth Madron, (Talgarth, near Brecon) in the 5th century.  Brychan reared a highly educated and godly brood, all his children studied under an elderly blind priest, Drichan, in Glandwr near Builth Wells. 

Her legend was first documented in the 12th century, and  her church was an important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages but presumably there was an oral history reaching back long before that. She was revered in Wales until the Protestant Reformation, when Henry VIII’s English church discouraged the veneration of saints. Her name and the legend were largely forgotten until Victorian times when a cross was erected near her church, with another more ornate version in 1903.

In the 60’s a student introduced the idea of sending cards on her saint’s day, which was  celebrated since the 15th Century on the 25th of January. Her legend predates Shakespeare and the story of the Sleeping Beauty tales by many centuries, and possibly because of the long oral history has several version.

Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, a handsome prince, who returned her love, but her father would not allow the match. In many accounts, rejected Maelon either rapes or attempts to rape her. In other versions she is simply distraught because they were not allowed to marry and hopes to forget him.  Broken-hearted Dwynwen runs into the forest and prays for help. An angel appears and gives her a sweet potion which turns Maelon into block of ice. Dwynwen prays again for assistance and is granted three wishes; that Maelon is revived, that she never has to marry, and that true lovers are rewarded and looked after. She retreats to the beautiful little Island off the coast on Anglesey, Ynys Llanddwyn and establishes a sanctuary amidst ‘dwarf bramble and briar rose’ beside a holy well. Pilgrimages to visit that well were made by women wanting the saint’s blessing. Whether their request would be granted was supposed to be determined by watching  the direction the fish swam in her holy well.

I have based my new novel, “The King over the Sea”, around Maelon her rejected lover. Dwynwen and Maelwyn Succus, better known as St Patrick, in all probability, also lived around this time in Wales. No one knows quite who this young man Mealon was, which gave me plenty of scope for my tale, which aims to be an exciting page-turner. (Free on Kindle Unlimited).

Bio: After many years working in mental health and latterly as a civil servant, I have taken time to indulge in my passions of walking, Wales and writing. I am working to combine all three, in historical novels set in Wales. Occasional potter, photographer and painter, my aim is to develop parts of my brain little used until now – while I still have the chance.


2 thoughts on “The Legend of St Dwynwen – The Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers, and Shakespeare’s Inspiration?”

  1. Da iawn!
    My husband is exploring his Welsh roots, and we’ve been diving a bit into Welsh history and language. I’ve always held a soft spot for Welsh mythology, so I loved this post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s