St David’s Day is the feast day of the patron saint of Wales and falls on 1st March, believed to be the anniversary of his death in AD 589.
David was a fifth century teacher and preacher born into Welsh royalty (son of St Non and grandson of Ceridigion) who founded churches and settlements all over Wales, including a Celtic monastery at Glyn Rhosyn in Pembrokeshire, Wales. St David’s Cathedral now stands on the spot of this community, which is also where David was originally interred and a shrine was made until it was raided and destroyed by the Vikings during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Cathedral is a fascinating building – the slanted floor and almost comically leaning walls and pillars make it amazing to be still standing today.
David’s monastic rule was extremely harsh, even by the standards of the day. His monks had to refrain from consuming meat and beer, eating only bread with herbs and salt and drinking only water. Toil was prescribed, including pulling their own plough instead of using animals for the job. The monks were expected to spend their evenings in prayer, or partaking of writing and reading activities. They were not allowed any personal possessions and to refer to something as “my…” was considered sinful.
St David is believed to have lived to be over 100 years old and he preached his final sermon on the Sunday before his death. It is recorded that e spoke the 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.”
It is interesting that the phrase “Do the little things in life” (‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’) which is today a very well-known phrase in Welsh, is echoed by Mother Theresa almost 1500 years later when she says “We cannot do great things, but we can do little things with great love”.
St David was canonised (made a saint) in 1120 by Pope Callixtus II. The best-known miracle associated with David happened during an occasion when he was preaching in Llandewi Brefi to a large crowd. Many of them couldn’t see him properly and when they complained the ground he was standing on rose up to form a small hill, and a dove came down to rest on his shoulder – a sign of God’s grace. It was thought significant that this happened shortly after he had denounced Pelagianism (a school of thought that believed moral perfection could be attained in this life without the grace of God, by human free will alone).
The traditional Welsh symbol is the leek which was worn in battle to differentiate between them and the English, who would have been dressed in similar garments and colours. Later, the symbol of the daffodil was adopted in addition to the leek. In the Welsh language the name for the leek is “Cenhinen” and the daffodil is “Cenhinen Pedr” or, “Peter’s leek”.
Traditionally on 1st March children would have a half day holiday from school to take part in concerts (eisteddfodau) to celebrate their Welsh heritage by singing and recitations. It isn’t officially a practice carried out today but some schools do still observe the tradition. Calls in recent years by the Welsh nation for 1st March to become a national holiday have been rejected by the government, most recently by Tony Blair in 2007.
St David has inspired many works of art and music for the last 1500 years, and as recently as 1999 where the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins composed a suite of choral music called “Dewi Sant” in his honour.
“Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd!” to our Welsh neighbours – Happy Saint David’s Day.