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Who is St. David

Saint David & Saint David’s Day

If you were lucky enough to be in Wales on March the first, you would find
the country in a festive mood.  Everyone would be celebrating St.
David’s Day in one way or another.

But who was St. David, and why is he so important to the Welsh?   And just how is St. David’s Day celebrated in Wales today?

Well, Saint David, or Dewi Sant, as he is known in the Welsh language, 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.

It isn’t clear how much of the history of Dewi’s life is legend rather than fact.

However, we can be relatively certain, that 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 meager diet, it is reported that he was tall and physically

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 city of Saint David.  We know a little about his early
life – he was educated in a monastery called Hen Fynyw, his teacher
being Paulinus, a blind monk.  Dewi stayed there for some years before
going forth with a party of followers on his missionary travels.

Dewi 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.

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

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.
The monastic brotherhood that Dewi founded was very strict, the brothers
having to work very hard besides praying and celebrating masses.  They
had to get up very early in the morning for prayers and afterwards work
very hard to help maintain life at the monastery, cultivating the land
and even pulling the plough.

Many crafts were followed – beekeeping, in particular, was very important.
The monks had to keep themselves fed as well as the many pilgrims and
travelers who needed lodgings.  They also had to feed and clothe the
poor and needy in their neighborhood.

There are many stories regarding Dew’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.  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.  These are said to be his last words ‘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
canonized by Pope Callactus the Second, and March 1st was included in
the Church calendar.  After Dewi’s canonization, many pilgrimages were
made to St. David’s, and many churches were dedicated to Dewi.
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.  In
St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, each March 1st, there will be a concert
featuring a 1,000 member male voice choir, specially formed for the
occasion.  Male voice choirs are flown to all corners of the globe on
St. David’s Day, to entertain Welsh communities.

St. David’s Day at the primary school begins with a religious service in
one of the chapels or churches in Carmarthen.  The children go to school
dressed in Welsh costumes.  The girls wear a pais a betgwn – a
petticoat, made of Welsh flannel, and a tall beaver hat, worn over a
frilled white bonnet.  The boys wear a white shirt with a jabot and
wrist frills, a Welsh flannel waistcoat, black breeches, long woolen
socks and black shoes.  To complete the outfit they wear a flat beaver

The students march through the town, led by the Mayor and town
dignitaries.  People gather to see them marching past.  They go back to
school for a bowl of cawl – or leek broth: the traditional St. David’s
Day meal.  After lunch they dance Welsh dances, sing Welsh folk songs
and recite Welsh poems.   The highlight of the day is the judging of the
longest leek competition.

Well, I hope that you now have some idea of who St. David was, and why he is
so important to the Welsh.  Dewi’s words still ring down through the
ages.  So perhaps, as we go about our lives, we would be wise to
remember his very last words, and to do the little things.