On the 1st of March the proud people of Wales celebrate St David’s Day. Unlike the English, who barely note the passing of St George’s day, the Welsh wear daffolidils in their lapels and there are many local events organised featuring singing and dancing. If you are in Wales at the time you may come across people in traditional Welsh dress.
Saint David, or Dewi Sant, as he is known in Welsh, is the patron saint of Wales. He was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop, who lived in the sixth century. During his life, he was the archbishop of Wales, and he was one of many early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the pagan Celtic tribes of western Britain.
Dewi was a very gentle person who lived a frugal life. It is claimed that he ate mostly bread and herbs – probably watercress, which was widely used at the time. Despite this supposedly meagre diet, it is reported that he was tall and physically strong.
Dewi is said to have been of royal lineage. His father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, who was prince of Ceredigion, a region in South-West Wales. His mother, Non, was the daughter of a local chieftain. Legend has it that Non was also a niece of King Arthur.
Dewi was born near Capel Non (Non’s chapel) on the South-West Wales coast near the present tiny city of Saint David. He travelled far on his missionary journeys through Wales, where he established several churches. He also travelled to the south and west of England and Cornwall as well as Brittany. It is also possible that he visited Ireland. Two friends of his, Saints Padarn and Teilo, are said to have often accompanied him on his journeys, and they once went together on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet the Patriarch.
Dewi is sometimes known, in Welsh, as ‘Dewi Ddyfrwr’ (David the Water Drinker) and, indeed, water was an important part of his life – he is said to have drunk nothing else. Sometimes, as a self-imposed penance, he would stand up to his neck in a lake of cold water, reciting Scripture. Little wonder, then, that some authors have seen Dewi as an early Puritan!
He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (Rose Vale) on the banks of the small river Alun where the cathedral city of St. David stands today. There are many stories regarding Dewi’s life. It is said that he once rose a youth from death, and milestones during his life were marked by the appearance of springs of water. These events are arguably more apocryphal than factual. Perhaps the most well-known story regarding Dewi’s life is said to have taken place at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. They were to decide whether Dewi was to be Archbishop. A great crowd gathered at the synod, and when Dewi stood up to speak, one of the congregation shouted, ‘We won’t be able to see or hear him’. At that instant the ground rose till everyone could see and hear Dewi. Unsurprisingly, it was decided, very shortly afterwards, that Dewi would be the Archbishop…
It is claimed that Dewi lived for over 100 years, and it is generally accepted that he died in 589. His last words to his followers were in a sermon on the previous Sunday. Rhigyfarch transcribes these as ‘Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.’ ‘Do the little things’ (‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain’) is today a very well-known phrase in Welsh, and has proved an inspiration to many. On a Tuesday, the first of March, in the year 589, the monastery is said to have been ‘filled with angels as Christ received his soul’.
Dewi’s body was buried in the grounds of his own monastery, where the Cathedral of St. David now stands. After his death, his influence spread far and wide – first through Britain, along what was left of the Roman roads, and by sea to Cornwall and Brittany.
St David’s Day, as celebrated today, dates back to 1120, when Dewi was canonised by Pope Callactus the Second, and March 1st was included in the Church calendar. After Dewi’s canonisation, many pilgrimages were made to St. David’s, and it was reported that two pilgrimages there equalled one to Rome, and three pilgrimages one to Jerusalem. March 1st was celebrated until the Reformation as a holy day. Many churches are dedicated to Dewi, and some to his mother Non.
It is not certain how much of the history of St. David is fact and how much is mere speculation. At the end of 1996, bones were found in St. David’s Cathedral which, it was claimed, could be those of Dewi himself. Unfortunately, these were later found to be medieval remains.
Regardless of this, St. David was, and is, a very important figure to the Welsh. Naturally, then, St. David’s Day is a time of great celebration in Wales. Societies all over Wales celebrate with special meetings and events.
Extracted from http://sucs.org/~rhys/stdavid.html