Valentine’s Day

Dwynwen was Wales’ patron saint of lovers, and January 25th is the Welsh equivalent to St Valentine’s Day. However, it is a romantic country, and they also celebrate St Valentine’s day on 14 February!

She is also known as:

  • Dwyn
  • Donwen
  • Donwenna
  • Dunwen

Her most well known saying is “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness

The story of Dwynwen dates back to the 5th century. She was a beautiful Celtic princess, the prettiest of all the King of Wales’s 24 daughters (Brychan Brycheiniog of Brechon also had 11 sons!).

Dwynwen was in deeply in love with the handsome Maelon Dafodrill, but her father had already betrothed her to another, so he refused to give them his consent. On finding out, Maelon cruelly forced himself upon her and fled. With a broken heart, and grieved to have upset her father, Dwynwen ran to the woods and begged God to make her forget her love for Maelon.

Exhausted and aungished, Dwynwen eventually fell asleep. Whilst dreaming, an angel visited her and left a sweet smelling potion. This would erase all memories of Maelon, and his callous heart would also be cooled, but so much so that he turned to ice. Dwynwen was horrified to find her love frozen solid. She prayed again to God, who answered her prayers by granting her three wishes.

Her first wish was to have Maelon thawed and for him to forget her; her second, to have God look kindly on the hopes and dreams of true lovers whilst mending the broken hearts of the spurned; and her third was for her to never marry, but to devote the remainder of her life to God, as thanks for saving Maelon.

Dwynwen devoted the rest of life to God’s service. She became a nun and lived on Llanddwyn Island on the western coast of Ynys Mon (Anglesey), an area accessible only at low tide. She founded a church there, remains of which can still be seen today. After her death she was declared the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers and ever since, Welsh lovers have looked to St Dwynwen for her help in courting their true love, or for forgetting a false one.

On the island there is a well where, according to legend, a sacred fish (an eel) swims. It is said that the eel can predict the happiness of relationships.

Her well, a fresh-water spring called Ffynnon Dwynwen, became a wishing well and place of pilgrimage, particularly for lovers because of the story above. The tradition grew that the eel in the well could foretell the future for lovers – ask questions and watch which way they turn. Women would scatter breadcrumbs on the surface, then lay her handkerchief on water’s surface; if the eel disturbed it, her lover would be faithful.

Visitors still go to the well today, hoping that the water will boil, meaning that love and good luck will follow them. Her well continues to be a place of pilgrimage; there’s a tradition that if the fish in the well are active when a couple visits, it’s the sign of a faithful husband.

Visitors would leave offerings at her shrine, and so popular was this place of pilgrimage that it became the richest in the area during Tudor times. This funded a substantial chapel that was built in the 16th century on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.

Prayer To St Dwynwen

Oh Blessed St. Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation. You have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an Angel, intercede for me to receive 3 blessings to obtain my heart’s desire (state request) and if that is not God’s will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in a right way; and an unshakeable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God and this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Dwynwen, we beseech thee, comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sources:

Pompeii_wall_painting

Valentine’s Day has its roots in ancient orgiastic festivals. On February 14, The Romans celebrated Febris (meaning fever), a sacred sexual frenzy in honor of Juno Februa, an aspect of the goddess of amorous love. This sex fest coincided with the time when the birds in Italy were thought to mate.

The ecstatic rites of the Goddess merged over time with those of Lupercalia, the bawdy festivities in honor of the pagan god of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, Pan, which were observed on the following day, February 15.

On Lupercalia, (named, incidentally, in honor of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus), men and women inscribed their names on love notes or billets and then drew lots to determine who their sex partner would be during this anything goes festival of erotic games.

Sulpicia, a first century BC Roman poet, describes her participation in the events with hearty candor:

“At last love has come. I would be more ashamed
to hide it in cloth than leave it naked.
I prayed to the Muse and won. Venus dropped him
in my arms, doing for me what she
had promised. Let my joy be told, let those
who have none tell it in a story.
Personally, I would never send off words
in sealed tablets for none to read.
I delight in sinning and hate to compose a mask
for gossip. We met. We are both worthy.”

Roman armies took their Lupercalia customs with them as they invaded France and Britain. One of these was the above mentioned lottery where the names of available maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love – for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer.

Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St. Valentine featured a lottery of Saints. One would pull the name of a saint out of a box, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that saint.

The Feast of St. Valentine and the saint lottery lasted for a couple hundred years, but the church just couldn’t rid the people’s memory of Lupercalia. In time, the church gave up on Valentine all together. The lottery finally returned to coupling eligible singles in the 15th century. The church attempted to revive the saint lottery once again in the 16th century, but it never caught on.

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During the medieval days of chivalry, the single’s lottery was very popular. The names of English maidens and bachelors were put into a box and drawn out in pairs. The couple exchanged gifts and the girl became the man’s valentine for a year. He wore her name on his sleeve and it was his bounded duty to attend and protect her. The ancient custom of drawing names on the 14th of February was considered a good omen for love.

By the early 1600s, handmade valentines were customarily sent from admirers to sweethearts. About 1800 the first commercial cards appeared. Cards were usually sent anonymously. As early as 1822, an English official reported having to hire extra postal workers on this day. In 1849, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts, started selling quality valentines so popular that she was called “Mother of the American Valentine.”

Sources:

lupercalia

Lupercalia is uniquely Roman, but even the Romans of the first century were at a loss to explain exactly which deity or deities were being exalted. It hearkens back to the days when Rome was nothing more than a few shepherds living on a hill known as Palantine and was surrounded by wilderness teeming with wolves.

Lupercus, protector of flocks against wolves, is a likely candidate; the word lupus is Latin for wolf, or perhaps Faunus, the god of agriculture and shepherds. Others suggest it was Rumina, the goddess whose temple stood near the fig tree under which the she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus. There is no question about Lupercalia’s importance. Records indicate that Mark Antony was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44BC as the proper time to offer the crown to Julius Caesar.

February occurred later on the ancient Roman calendar than it does today so Lupercalia was held in the spring and regarded as a festival of purification and fertility. Each year on February 15, the Luperci priests gathered on Palantine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. Vestal virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first ears of last year’s grain harvest to the fig tree. Two naked young men (called Lupercii) asisted by the Vestals, sacrificed a dog and a goat at the site. The blood was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool dipped in milk.

The Lupercii them skinned the sacrificed goat and ripped the hide into strips which they tied around their naked waists and led groups of priests around the pomarium, the sacred boundary of the ancient city, and around the base of the hills of Rome. The occasion was happy and festive.

They then got drunk, and ran around Rome striking everyone they met with strips of the goat hide. This act supposedly provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility. Young women who were touched in this manner were thought to be specially blessed, especially in regards to fertility and procreation.

It is from these implements of purification, or februa, that the month of February gets its name.

Long after Palentine Hill became the seat of the powerful city, state and empire of Rome, the Lupercalia festival lived on. Roman armies took the Lupercalia customs with them as they invaded France and Britain. One of these was a lottery where the names of available maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love – for the duration of the festival, or sometimes longer.

Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the fourteenth of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St. Valentine featured a lottery of Saints. One would pull the name of a saint out of a box, and for the following year, study and attempt to emulate that saint.

If you are interested, you can read more about Valentine’s Day (and how it came to be what it is today) on it’s own separate page.

A modern approach to the Lupercalia is as follows:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Themes: Love; Passion; Romance; Sexuality
  • Symbols: Doves; Flowers; Berries; Trees; Pine Cones
  • Presiding Goddess: Venus
About Venus:

Venus was originally an Italic goddess of blossoms; hearts and flowers have slowly become attributed to her loving, passionate energies. In fact, her name became the root for the word venerate – to lift up, worship, or esteem. So it is that Venus greets pre-spring efforts for uplifting our hearts with positive relationships.

To Do Today:

During Lupercalia, an ancient predecessor of Valentine’s Day, single girls put their names in a box, and unmarried men drew lots to see with whom they would be paired off for the coming year. To the more modern minded, try pinning five bay leaves to your pillow instead to dream of future loves. If you’re married or otherwise involved, steep the bay leaves in water and drink the resulting tea to strengthen the love in your relationship.

To encourage balance in a relationship, bind together Venus’s symbols, a pine cone and a flower, and put them somewhere in your home. Or, to spice up a passionate moment, feed fresh berries to each other and drink a berry beverage from one cup (symbolizing united goals and destinies).

In Roman tradition, anywhere there’s a large stone adjacent to a tall tree, Venus is also there. Should you know of such a place, go there today and commune with her warm lusty energy.

Sources:

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