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Ffynnon Dafoden
YNYS LLANDDWYN is situated on the extreme south-west corner of Anglesey. It is officially a tidal island, that is, it is cut off from the mainland for about a quarter of an hour at a high tide. Traditionally it is the place where St Dwynwen, supposedly the most beautiful of King Brychan’s 24 daughters, established her church.

The Legend

Legend says that Dwyn (as she is known in some documents) was affianced to Prince Maelon Dafodrill, but her father opposed the match and wished her to wed someone else. Angered, Maelon raped her and left her. Sadness drove Dwynwen to some woods where she could weep alone. She prayed that she could forget Maelon, and when she fell asleep that night she was visited by an angel who gave her a draught of forgetfulness, and Maelon was turned to ice for his great sin. God granted Dwynwen three wishes. She asked for Maelon to be restored to life, that God would hold in fair regard the dreams of all true lovers, and finally that she should never marry so  she could devote her life to God. Thus she became a nun, and retired to Llanddwyn. There she is said to have done good works until her death around 460-465 AD. The 16th Century ruins of the church are said to stand on her original foundation, and legend says that she is buried there.

In the Middle Ages

The Island became an important place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Dafydd ap Gwilym, the Welsh poet of the Troubadour tradition writing in the 13th Century visited there, and wrote his poem about Dwynwen, which begins: ‘Dwynwen deigr arien degwch, Da y gwyr dy gôr fflamgwyr fflwch’. Roughly translated it means ‘Dwynwen your beauty is like a silver tear, your choir (ie in the church) is ablaze with candlelight’. If nothing else it gives a colourful picture of the church as it must have been in Dafydd’s time.  Dwynwen is represented in the ‘Sayings of the Wise ‘ with the following verse:

‘A glywaist ti ei chwedl Dwynwen.   (Have you heard the legend (saying) of Dwynwen
Santes, merch deg Brychan hen.      Saint, fair daughter of Brychan the Aged.
Nid caruaid ond llawen.’                  Only the happy are loved.)  (better translation?)

Later in the 15th Century Sir Dafydd Trefor was equally impressed, referring to her as ‘Y verch wenn o Vericheinoc’, the holy girl from Brycheiniog. He described Llanddwyn as an exceedingly important place where pilgrims came from far afield. ‘Grotiau rhyd ffrydiau o Ffrainc’ -groats (four pence pieces) ran like rivers from France.’  There was also said to be a solid gold statue of the saint in her church, and a window dedicated to her in Bangor Cathedral, which can no longer be seen (a window dedicated to her sister Ceinwen can still be seen there).

The Well

She became the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her feast is still celebrated on the 25th of January. She was particularly famed for foretelling the destiny of lovers by means of ichthyomancy, divination by fish, which were found in her wells. One well was Ffynnon Dafoden, which is to be found to the north of her church on the shore, the other was Crochan Llanddwyn, about a mile from the church and now choked with sand. These were said to be the homes to eel-like fish which could predict affairs of the heart. Fynnon Dafoden, which many believe to be the original well, can be seen today, although it is much dilapidated. It is near an underwater cave which makes a churning sound during the incoming tide hence its name ‘Ogof yr hen wraig bach yn corddi’ - the cave of the little wife churning. The sound is to be heard to this day, and is a sure pointer to the well. Dwynwen’s foundation was destroyed during the Reformation and was left in the state it is in now.

Making sense of the legend

It is difficult to untangle the story of Dwynwen. There can be little doubt that she was a historical figure who accumulated a great deal of spurious baggage over the ages. There is a very close correlation between her story an that of St Winifred of Holywell, and symbolises the great emphasis the early church placed on chastity, especially in women. It must be noted however that Maelon was afforded much more mercy that Caradoc, the violator of Winifred, who was killed outright, and promptly forgotten!  

Some speculation is extremely difficult to avoid. Dwynwen if her date of 465 is  correct, was one of our earliest saints, as indeed were all of the original  Children of Brychan. The greatest obstacle the early church had to overcome was that of paganism in the form of Druidism, which had almost certainly survived the Roman’s attempts to eradicate it. Druidism was a religion firmly rooted in the rural areas of the country (hence pagan from paganus meaning countryman, vis the French word for country; Payes). It was agrarian by nature and was ruled by the natural cycle of the seasons. To such a religion the moon and sun are important. The worship of the moon was just as important as sun worship, and there is evidence that worshipers carried white stones to sacred sites and deposited them in such places that they would be illuminated by the light of the moon. Many historians have seen a similarity between Druidical doctrine and the doctrine of the Celtic Church which itself pays much  regard to nature.

It can surely not be just coincidence that  Dwynwen was invoked to heal animals, that her symbol is the crescent moon, and that white pebbles were deposited by the original cross (no longer there) towering above the pathway  to the island sanctuary? That fish were later used to forecast the future?  Here is rather more than a hint of the old religion. When one realises that just across the straits is Caer Arianrhod of Mabinogi fame, Arianrhod was the Celtic Moon Goddess (Arianrhod meaning Silver Disk or Wheel) then conclusions are inevitable. Coupled with this is the love element.

Is it stretching the imagination too far to say that Dwynwen represents a transposition? That is, a Christian saint replacing a Roman goddess (Venus, perhaps explaining the love factor), which, in its turn, had replaced the original Druidical deity?

Whatever the explanation, Llanddwyn’s history has ensured a continuation, a spirit of place, that has survived the fickle whims of the past. The story of Dwynwen is worth investigating, and a visit to Llanddwyn is a must, especially if you are seeking a love partner!  

Don’t forget the white stone. There are so many on the beach.

(Half Light - a film made on Llanddwyn  and in other locations on Anglesey starring the American actress Demi Moore, may spark the readers memory.)
Satellite View
Ynys Llanddwyn
Dwynwen Ynys Llanddwyn Maelon Dafodrill Santes Cariadon Cymru 25 ionawr
Ynys Llanddwyn.

Ceinwen.

St Gallgo.

St Ewryd.

St Nidan.

St Pabo.

St Padrig.

St Peirio.

St Bugail.

Seiriol a Chybi Poem.