Santes Dwynwen – the Welsh St. Valentine

When pressed, most people would think of Burns Night when asked what happens on 25 January. But for Welsh-speaking Welshfolk this day is most certainly Diwrnod Santes Dwynwen, Saint Dwynwen’s Day.

Dwynwen, the fifth century youngest daughter of Brychan, an ancient prince, is the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Most Welsh people also celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, but Dwynwen’s day is far less tacky and commercialised and felt by most of us in Wales as the true day of love! I know of many a courting couple who on this day visited Ynys Llanddwyn, Dwynwen’s Island, a small outcrop jutting out into the sea off Anglesey, to return as engaged to be married. It is a beautiful location accessed only by a walk along a glorious beach and has been the setting for several Hollywood films in the past. “Clash of the Titans” was filmed there recently as well as the horror/mystery movie “Half Light” starring Demi Moore in 2006 – though in that particular film it doubled for Scotland!! The landscape there is truly magical and yet it is very much unspoilt by man save for a few isolated buildings. The sun sets here in a particularly spectacular fashion as can be seen in the several photos found on Google Images.

Traditionally, 25 January is the day in which love tokens are exchanged, with the male especially giving his beloved an intricately carved wooden love spoon. The gift would be full of images symbolising promises of fidelity, honour and love. Many of these spoons are found adorning the wall of a room in Welsh houses as a statement of love between man and wife. It is always better to carve the spoon yourself, but it is also acceptable for you to engage a more expert carver to craft one out of a block of wood to a design of your choice.

Ynys Llanddwyn

When I visited Granville NY in the early 1990’s I was introduced to William Williams of Truthville. Bill was an octogenarian by then and a Slate Valley native to the core. However, he was also a Welshman to his soul. His parents emigrated to the Slate Valley alongside the many hundreds who came over to carve out an existence from the New York/Vermont quarries. In fact, both his parents came to the States from the Caernarfon area which can be seen directly on the other side of the channel from Ynys Llanddwyn in the photo [please click on the link Ynys Llanddwyn above]. Bill’s English was pure American and yet his Welsh was utterly flawless. He spoke the language with an accent that clearly rooted his genes in the Gwynedd area of North Wales, a region that fed thousands of Welshfolk to the quarries of the Slate Valley. Yet another link with yr Hen Wlad, the Old Country, was his large collection of love spoons which he once described to me as “Welsh Willie’s whittlin’s”. I believe the love spoons are now kept at the Slate Valley Museum – they’re well worth a visit! He’d phone here often to have a chat in Welsh and I really treasure the memory of those calls. I was honoured to visit his home one evening and he gave me a small carved piece of wood in the shape of a howling dog. It’s in this very room as I type…..and so is Bill!

The howling dog of Bill Williams

I haven’t yet carved a love spoon to put on a wall of a room in this house. I think I should do so. In the meantime there hangs a heart of slate which reminds me of so many things. It tells me that there is love in this house, but also it reminds me of a symbol I saw on thousands of t-shirts in NY not so long ago! It also tells me how much the Slate Valley means to me, especially a couple of people in Middle Granville, John and Joan Jones, who I believe are celebrating a wedding annivesary sometime during the next few days……….so to end this blog for now…..happy anniversary to my American “mom and dad” from yr Hen Wlad!

The Heart of Slate

Tan tro nesa’ – ’til next time!


About slatevalleymuseum

This year, Slate Valley Museum celebrates its 15th year of exciting range of programs, exhibitions, and special events that share its mission to collect, catalogue, conserve, exhibit, and interpret materials, artifacts, machines, and information that demonstrate the geology of slate and the history of slate quarrying and the quarrying community in the Slate Valley of New York and Vermont. We invite you to join us and... explore... exhibits of historic artifacts from the area's renowned slate quarries and mills displays revealing the science and art of slate quarrying, and its influence on the Slate Valley culture a quarry shanty, complete with all the machinery and tools used in traditional slate quarrying a geological display illustrating the natural history of slate examples of how slate has been used in the structure and decor of local buildings and as an inspriration for artworks in various media and our new multi-media exhibit HEAVY LIFTING: A Human and Technological History of Moving Slate from Quarry to Market, 1850-Present
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