St David’s Day is celebrated in Wales on 1 March, in honour of Dewi Sant or St David, the patron saint of Wales. Little is known about him for certain. What little information we have is based on an account of his life written by Rhigyfarch towards the end of the 11th century.
According to this Latin manuscript, Dewi died in the year 589. His mother was called Non, and his father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion. After being educated in Cardiganshire, he went on pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He even went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop.
He eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David’s), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community. Many miracles have been attributed to him, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi – he caused the ground to rise underneath him so that he could be seen and heard by all. How much truth is in this account of his life by Rhigyfarch is hard to tell. It must be considered that Rhigyfarch was the son of the Bishop of St David’s, and that the Life was written as propaganda to establish Dewi’s superiority and defend the bishopric from being taken over by Canterbury and the Normans.
From the 12th century onwards, Dewi’s fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany. St David’s Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, particularly after Dewi was officially recognised as a Catholic saint in 1120. From this period on, he was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi. In 1398, it was ordained that his feast-day was to be kept by every church in the Province of Canterbury. Though the feast of Dewi as a religious festival came to an end with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the day of his birth became a national festival during the18th century.
Now March 1 is celebrated by schools and cultural societies throughout Wales. It is the custom on that day to wear either a leek or a daffodil – two of our national emblems – and for young girls to wear the national costume.
What does the flag of St David look like?
Who was St David?
St David (Dewi Sant was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop, who lived in the sixth century. He spread the word of Christianity across Wales.
The most famous story about Saint David tells how he was preaching to a huge crowd and the ground is said to have risen up, so that he was standing on a hill and everyone had a better chance of hearing him.
What is the national emblems of Wales?
The national emblems of Wales are daffodils and leeks.
St David’s Day is commemorated by the wearing of daffodils or leeks. Both plants are traditionally regarded as national emblems.
There are many explanations of how the leek came to be adopted as the national emblem of Wales. One is that St David advised the Welsh, on the eve of battle with the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from the enemy. Shakespeare mentions in Henry V, that the Welsh archers wore leeks at the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
What is Wales’ National Dress?
On St David’s Day, some children in Wales dress in their national costume, which consists of a tall black hat, white frilled cap and long dress. The national flag of Wales, depicting a fiery red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) against a green and white background, is also flown.
What is the National Flag of Wales?
Flag of Wales
Dewi Sant – St. David was born towards the end of the fifth century, less than a hundred years after the last Roman legions had marched out of Wales. He was a scion of the royal house of Ceredigion, his mother was Non, daughter of Cynyr of Caio, remembered by numerous churches and holy wells in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Educated at Henfynyw (Old Menevia) in Ceredigion, where he ‘learned the alphabet, the psalms, the lessons for the whole year, the Masses and the Synaxis’, he founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosin (The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Sir Benfro, at the spot where St. David’s Cathedral stands today. The spot may well have been the site of a very early religious community, for it is also associated with St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who may have been born in Wales and is said to have spent time at Glyn Rhosyn before embarking again (this time voluntarily) for Ireland from Porth Mawr nearby.
David’s fame as a teacher and ascetic spread throughout the Celtic world. He earned the curious nickname Dewi Ddyfrwr – David the Waterman – no doubt reflecting the harsh bread-and-water regime of Celtic monks. Many traditions and legends are associated with him. When he rose to address to a great crowd at a synod at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, the ground rose under his feet forming a little hill so that all could hear him speak. Again, a golden-beaked dove is said to have landed on his shoulder as a symbol of his holiness.
His foundation at Glyn Rhosin became one of the most important shrines of the Christian world, and the most important centre in Wales. Roads and tracks from all over the nation led to it and in the Middle Ages two pilgrimages to Menevia was equal to one to Rome (Dos i Rufain unwaith, ac i Fynyw ddwywaith – Go to Rome once, and come to Monmouth twice). Over fifty churches and innumerable holy wells were dedicated to him in Wales alone.
The religious centre of St David’s thus became a focus for the religious aspirations of the Welsh nation and as Gerallt Cymro (Giraldus Cambrensis) relates: The Bishopric of St Davids became … a symbol of the independence of Wales … and that is why David himself was exalted into a Patron Saint of Wales.
The date of Dewi Sant’s death is recorded as March 1st, but the year is uncertain – possibly 588. As his tearful monks prepared for his death St David uttered these words: ‘Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil’ and as he died ‘Lords, brothers and sisters, be cheerful, keep the faith, and do those little things which ye have seen me do and heard me say.’