Magical, windswept Llanddwyn Island is home to a shrine to St. Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers.
At the southwestern tip of Anglesey Island lies a gorgeous spot associated with St. Dwynwen, who in Welsh culture fills a similar role to that of St. Valentine. Known as Ynys Llanddwyn in Welsh, Llanddwyn Island means “the church of St. Dwynwen.” Visitors to this tidal island can see the ruins of a church that was once one of the wealthiest in Wales. It’s still a place for lovers (and ordinary mortals) to come on pilgrimage.
The story of St. Dwynwen has several variations, though all follow the same broad outline. One version says that during the fifth century, Dwynwen was one of 24 daughters of a Welsh prince named Brychan. Although her father had already betrothed her to another man, she fell in love with a young man named Maelon. When he heard she was going to marry another man, he was furious and attacked her. For his sin, he was frozen in a block of ice.
Heartbroken, Dwynwen ran away to the forest, where she met an angel who gave her three wishes. First, she asked for Maelon to be unfrozen. Second, she asked to be allowed to help people who were unhappy in love. And third, she asked never to want to be married herself.
Her wishes granted, Dwynwen retreated to Llanddwyn Island to become a nun. There it is said she had a magical well with enchanted eels that could tell the fortunes of lovesick travelers.
Well, with a story like that, it’s no wonder that Llanddwyn became a pilgrimage destination!
In the fifth century, a church was built bearing Dwynwen’s name. Centuries later, another church was built upon the original foundation. People traveled here from throughout Wales and the border lands, especially those seeking good fortune in love. As a result, St. Dwynwen’s became one of the wealthiest churches in Wales.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1536, the church fell into disuse. But the story of St. Dwynwen wasn’t forgotten. To this day, her feast day of January 25 is celebrated in Wales with cards and flowers, similar to St. Valentine’s Day on February 14.
In addition to its religious history, Llanddwyn is also worth visiting because of its beauty. As part of the Newborough National Nature Reserve, its dunes, mudflats, salt marshes and rocky shore are home to a wide range of plants and invertebrates. In the summer, the island’s grasslands are filled with flowers. Hiking trails lead along the shore, across dunes, and past a commemorative cross, a lighthouse, and a lifeboat house as well as the ruins of St. Dwynwen’s church. An added treat are the panoramic views of Snowdonia National Park to the south.
Llanddwyn becomes an island at high tide, so be aware of the tidal schedule when you visit. You will need to walk about 30 minutes from a car park in order to reach it, but the gorgeous views across to the Llŷn Peninsula make the time go quickly.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of books that include Holy Rover, Near the Exit, The Soul of the Family Tree, and Every Step Is Home. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.