January 25 – Gregory Nazianzen; Dwynwen of Llanddwyn

Sculpture of Gregory Nazianzen by Jana Krzystofa Doebel, 1693. Part of the pulpit in the basilica of Dobre Miasto, Królewcu (Königsberg, Kaliningrad), RussiaGregory Nazianzen (ca. 329–389) (aka Gregory the Theologian) was a theologian from Nazianzus. There, got that out of the way. Our sources say his mother converted his father, a hypsisterian[1] (not to be confused with hip Cistercians, French monks who brew really good beer[2]), to the episcopacy of Nazianzus. After schooling, a come-to-Jesus moment on a foundering ship, and a brief teaching gig in Athens, young Gregory went home to Nazianzus, only to be forcibly priested by his dad in what he called an “act of tyranny.” Following in the footsteps of a thousand saints before and since, he ran away from home, taking up a monkly existence with his buddy Basil the Great (at the time Basil the Pretty Good) (Jan 1). Basil told him to go home, so after a year he did so, only to find the diocese torn asunder by the Arian heresy. It may have been torn asunder before he left, but he was too angry to notice.

By this time Emperor Julian had changed his last name to “The Apostate,” so Gregory sat down and wrote his famous Invectives Against Julian (subtitled Take That You Splitter), which vowed to win Arians back to the fold through love and patience—leading one to marvel at how the word “invective” has changed meaning down through the years. In 372 Basil ordained him Bishop of Sasima (not to be confused with sashimi) (or satsuma), a see Basil had invented to add more bishops to the Trinitarian team. Gregory took this with ill grace, calling it “a paltry horse-stop,” which—let’s face it—it probably was. He escaped back to Nazianzus to help his father, saying he wouldn’t be Basil’s pawn any more. The two were never reconciled in the flesh, although upon Basil’s death Gregory sent a heartfelt letter to Basil’s brother Gregory of Nyssa (Jan 10), and wrote twelve beautiful poems about his departed friend.

After a time our Gregory was persuaded to remove to Constantinople and continue the fight against heresy. He went on to become Patriarch and presided over the Second Ecumenical Council, but when things turned ugly there, he begged to be allowed to retire, which he did, sort of. He went back to Nazianzus and served as bishop for a time, before really retiring and spending some years in peace before his death. He is the patron of the poet and of the harvest.

Photo of the ruins of the Church of St. Dwynwen in Llanddwyn, WalesDwynwen of Llanddwyn (d. ca. 460) (aka Dwyn) is sometimes called the St. Valentine of Wales. As a young girl, Dwyn fell mutually in love with a certain Maelon, and the latter asked for her hand, which she wasn’t using at the time. At just that moment, though, her long-latent desire to become a nun got the better of her, and she rejected his suit, and his other clothes too. That night she had a dream in which she drank a potion that “saved” her from his attentions, but turned him into ice. “Eek!” she cried (or the equivalent of “eek” in ancient Welsh), “it’s not his fault he loves me!” (She was by all accounts, or at least the one I read, very beautiful.)

In her dream she prayed for him to be restored, and (somewhat paradoxically) that all lovers should find happiness[3]. While she was at it, she asked God to take away any inclinations in the marital direction that she might have. Maelon kind of falls out of the story at this point (but see footnote). Dwyn lived out her years as a nun, and after she died her spring sprouted a magic eel that could tell young girls if their lovers were true. (I could not possibly have made that up. Only the Cymry.) Many came there for eeling (heh), so Dwyn became known as the patroness of sick animals as well as of lovers (if indeed the latter aren’t just a subset of the former). Many Cymry send each other mushy cards on her day. Awww.


[1] A group of god-fearing gentiles that hung with Jewish people, and which may have been influenced by a group of devotees of Zeus, and may have helped in the spread of Christianity just beyond the far eastern borders of the Empire. Or not.
[2] Or is that Hop Cistercians?
[3] We must assume that either (a) after the initial pain Maelon found someone else, or (b) he got out of the lover game entirely and went into some other line.