Past notes: St David
Who was St David?
Tradition has it that St David ( Dewi Sant in Welsh) was the son of a prince of Ceredigion and the future St Non, and that he was born around AD 500 during a thunderstorm on the Pembrokeshire cliffs. This makes him the only patron saint of a nation in the British Isles to actually be born in the country he represents. As a young man he became a monk, rose to become a bishop and is said to have founded a monastery near to his birthplace, where St David’s Cathedral now stands. After his death on 1 March, possibly in AD 589, he was buried there and a shrine was established.
When did he become the patron saint of Wales?
Although it’s thought that he was canonised by Pope Calixtus II in 1123, David had long been venerated. By the 10th century, he appears to have been viewed as the leading Welsh saint and a symbol of Welsh nationhood. William the Conqueror recognised the importance of his shrine and went there to pray in 1081. St David’s grew into an important pilgrimage destination, helped by a papal decree that two pilgrimages to St David’s were equal to a single one to Rome.
Are any miracles associated with St David?
Of course. The best-known story is that while he was preaching before a huge crowd at Llanddewi Brefi, the ground on which he was standing rose up to form a small hill, so that those at the back could see and hear what was going on.
Why leeks on St David’s Day?
The leek as a symbol of Wales has a long history although its origin is unclear. One legend says that, possibly on the advice of St David, Welsh soldiers wore them into battle as a distinguishing sign. Shakespeare mentions the wearing of leeks on “St Davy’s Day” in his Henry V while leeks were worn on St David’s Day at the Tudor and Stuart courts, with James VI and I commenting that “the wearing of leeks by Welshmen was a good and commendable fashion”. However, not everyone in the 17th century shared that enthusiasm. Writing in 1667, Samuel Pepys noted how Londoners marked St David’s Day by stringing up life-sized effigies of Welshmen.
The shrine to St David in the Pembrokeshire cathedral that bears his name