‘St David’, by Michal Harris-Edwards

From the Editor: One day later than usual, here’s a special piece by one of our Welshmen, Michal, for the Feast of St David!

While you all celebrate St David’s Day today with a leek in one hand and a daffodil in the other, you may wonder who St David (or Dewi Sant as we call him in Wales) actually was.

Very little is known about him for sure. The main source that we have on him is a late 11th century book titled “Buchedd Dewi” (meaning “The Life of David” in Welsh). It was written by Rhygyfarch, who was the son of the Bishop of St David, and he may have succeeded his father to that post. It is believed that David was born in around the year 500 AD, though there is a lot of debate on how accurate this actually is. His mother is traditionally believed to be St Non, who was a nun in the Kingdom of Dyfed (modern day Pembrokeshire).  When Sanctus, King of Ceredigion (neighbouring kingdom to the north), was travelling through the area, he raped her, and this resulted in David being born. He was educated by St Paulinus who lived in the area.

Throughout his life, he was known for his preaching, and people would travel from all over to hear him speak. Due to his reputation, he was invited to speak at the Synod of Brefi in around 560. This is where his most famous miracle occurred; he was denouncing Pelagianism, when the crowd couldn’t hear what he was saying. Suddenly, the ground rose beneath his feet forming a small hill, allowing all present to hear him. A church dedicated to him was built on the site, located in the village of Llanddewi Brefi (meaning “The Church of St David on the River Brefi”). A dove also landed on his shoulder. Both of these are now associated with him in his portrayals. St Dubricius, who was present and the incumbent Bishop of Mynyw (Menevia in Latin), stepped down and gave the position to David.

David settled in Mynyw, where he set up a monastery. Today, this settlement is the city of St Davids, with the cathedral being built atop the original monastery, and being home to around 1,600 people, is the smallest city in the UK. The Welsh name for the city is Tyddewi, or David’s House in English.

He lived an ascetic life, and lived on a diet of bread, water and leek – which has subsequently become a symbol of both him and of Wales. He also travelled abound the Brythonic world (namely the Kingdom of Dumnonia (now Cornwall and Devon) and the Kingdom of Brittany (now France)) where he spread the word of God to the pagan Celts. He also possibly went to the Holy Land. He is said to have set up churches and other religious centres as he went.

He is commonly believed to have died in either 589 or 601, but other years have been suggested. Tradition places the day of his death today, 1st March. Pope Callixtus II made his sainthood official in 1120. While most notably being the Patron Saint of Wales, his patronage is also vegetarians, among other things.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus pawb!

Michal Harris-Edwards, BA Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Oriel