Saint David


Saint David by Aidan Hart

Much of Saint David's (Or in Welsh, Dewi Sant) life is found in a biography known as the Buchedd Dewi (Life of David) written by Rhygyfarch in the 11th century based on earlier documents in the Cathedral's archives. He was born near Chapel Non on the South-West Wales coast and was the son of Sant, the son of Ceredig, a prince of Ceredigion. His mother Non was the daughter of another local chieftan. Later writings would attest that Non was one of King Arthur's nieces. Though knowledge of his early childhood has been lost, he studied later in life at a monastery called Hen Fynyw under a blind monk named Saint Paulinus.


After his formal education, Saint David left the monastery and began journeying across Wales on missionary trips, spreading the Gospel and establishing several churches. The biographer Rhygyfarch counted Clastonbury Abbey as one of the churches established by Saint David. In a later writing by William of Malmesbury it is written that Saint David donated a travelling altar that included a large sapphire. A manuscript found recently attests that King Henry VIII of England confiscated a sapphire altar among other items during the Dissolution of the Monasteries a thousand years after Saint David donated it. Saint David also founded the monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the blanks of the river Alun. This monastic brotherhood had a very strict Rule that included strict dietary requirements (only salted bread and water), no personal possessions, and even required the monks to pull the plough instead of any farm animals.


At one point he travelled to Jerusalem where he was consecrated as a Bishop. When he returned, he attended the Synod of Brefi at a small town now named Llanddewi Brefi in 550. It is written that a massive crowd came to hear him and witnesses reported a white dove sitting on Saint David's shoulder. When he began to speak, members of the crowd shouted that they could not hear him. Miraculously, the ground around Saint David begin to rise and he soon found himself standing upon a small hill, high enough up for the entire crowd to hear him speak. He spoke against Pelagianism at this synod and soon after he was elected Archbishop of the region.





There are many more miracles associated with Saint David, many involving miraculous springs of water shooting up. Because of the miracles and Saint David's strict diet of drinking only water, he soon became known as Aquaticus or Dewi Ddyfrwr (the water drinker). Another story holds that while in a battle against the invading Saxons, Saint David advised his soldiers to wear leeks in their helps to help distinguish themselves apart from their enemies on the field of battle. Today the leek is one of the emblems of Wales and it's orgins as a emblem can directly traced back to Saint David. Shakespeare referenced this in his play Henry V (Act V, Scene 1):


Fluellen: "If your Majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your Majesty knows, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service, and I do believe, your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's day". King Henry: "I wear it for a memorable honour; for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman".


Royal Badge of Wales


Tradition holds that Saint David died on March 1st, 589 AD at the monastery at Minevia. The previous Sunday's homily were his final recorded words:


"Arglwyddi, brodyr, a chwiorydd, Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a'ch credd, a gwnewch y petheu bychain a glywsoch ac y welsoch gennyf i. A mwynhau a gerdaf y fford yd aeth an tadeu idi"

"Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. And as for me, I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us."

Today the phrase "Do ye the little things in life" or "Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd" is a very common and well known phrase in Welsh.


Saint David was buried at Saint David's Cathedral at Saint David's Pembrokeshire and was an extremely popular pilgrimage spot throughout the Middle Ages. Unfortunately Viking raids during the 10th and 11th centuries saw many of the ornaments and pieces of the shrine removed. The new shrine was rebuilt in 1275 containing ornaments and murals of Saint David, Saint Patrick and Saint Denis with the relics of Saint David and Saint Justinian of Ramsey Island kept in a casket at the base of the shrine. Tragically the shrine was stripped of it's jewels and the relics confiscated during the reformation by Bishop Barlow, a protestant. A new restored shrine was unveiled and rededicated on Saint David's Day in 2012 by Right Reverend Wyn Evans, Bishop of Saint David's.



Restored Shrine of Saint David




Saint David was officially canonized by Pope Callixtus II in 1120 AD thanks to the Bishop of Saint David's , a certain Bernard. In the 2004 version of the Roman Martyrology, Saint David is listed with the feast day of March 1 and the Latin name of Davus. He is credited with evangelizing Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Amorica through his leadership and monastery governance in the style of the Eastern Fathers. Saint David is the Patron Saint of Wales, vegetarians and poets. Though not a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Saint David's day is widely celebrated throughout Wales.

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