How Long Until St. David
December 2023

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The History and Legacy of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales

As a native of Wales, St. David has always played a significant role in my existence. St. David is ubiquitous in Welsh culture, from the iconic yellow daffodil and the traditional Welsh hymn “Cwm Rhondda” to the pre-match rituals of the Welsh rugby team. 

Who was Saint David? How did he become Wales’ patron saint? This article will examine the history and legacy of St. David.

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Early Life and Ministry

St. David was born to a noble family in Pembrokeshire, Wales, at the end of the fifth century. As a young man, he became a monk and was educated at the Hen Fynyw monastery in Cardigan. He then travelled to Ireland and founded several monasteries there. 

Eventually, he returned to Wales and founded his monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, which became a significant learning and pilgrimage centre.

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Miracles and Influence

St. David’s reputation as a holy man developed, and numerous miracles were attributed to him. St. David is said to have caused the ground to rise beneath his feet during the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi so that the gathered masses could hear him more clearly. 

This event became known as ‘Llanbadarn Fawr‘ and is still commemorated in Wales today. St. David was believed to have contributed to the dissemination of Christianity throughout Great Britain and Ireland. 

David the Waterdrinker was also known for his strict adherence to monastic rule and rejection of worldly commodities and pleasures, which earned him the moniker “Dewi Ddyfrwr.”

Canonisation and Legacy

St. David perished on March 1, 589, according to tradition. His tomb in Pembrokeshire’s St. David’s Cathedral became a pilgrimage site, and his cult became prominent throughout Wales. 

In 1120, Pope Callixtus II declared St. David a saint and established March 1 as his feast day.

His legacy is evident in Welsh culture’s numerous customs and symbols. St. David’s army is said to have flown the Welsh flag, which features a red dragon on a white and green background, during a battle against the Saxons. 

St. David’s legacy also includes the Welsh language, with its distinctive ‘ll’ and ‘ch’ sounds, as he is said to have preached in Welsh to his adherents.

Interesting Facts

  • St. David is sometimes called the ‘Patron Saint of Vegetarians’ due to his reported bread, water, and herbs diet.
  • St. David is credited with coining the Welsh motto ‘Gwir yours (‘Truth against the world’).
  • St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire houses the mediaeval manuscript ‘Liber Landavensis’, which contains some of the earliest surviving Welsh literature.
  • St. David’s Day is a national holiday in Wales observed on March 1 with parades, concerts, and traditional Welsh costumes.

The significance of St. David to Welsh culture and history cannot be exaggerated. As the patron saint of Wales, his legacy is reflected in the numerous traditions and symbols that comprise Welsh identity. 

From the daffodil to the pre-match rituals of the Welsh rugby team, St. David’s influence is still felt throughout Wales today.

St. David is also revered in other parts of the globe, particularly in the Celtic regions of Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany. St. David’s Day is also observed in areas where Welsh communities have settled in the United States.

St. David is also associated with significant symbolism. It is said that the daffodil, commonly associated with Wales, was St. David’s preferred flower. 

The Welsh rugby team’s pre-match ritual of singing the Welsh hymn ‘Calon Lan’ and the Welsh national anthem ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ is also a tribute to St. David’s influence.

Another intriguing aspect of the legacy of St. David is his association with water. St. David is the patron saint of several Welsh cities, including St. Davids, Llanddewi Brefi, and Llanddewi Velfrey, all associated with water sources such as rivers and wells.

The teachings of St. David also emphasised the value of education and the pursuit of knowledge. The establishment of his monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, which became a centre of learning and attracted scholars from Britain and Ireland, is evidence of this. 

Today, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, with campuses in several Welsh cities and villages, continues this tradition of academic excellence.

The influence of St. David on Welsh literature and poetry cannot be disregarded. The mediaeval manuscript, the ‘Liber Landavensis’, held in St. David’s Cathedral, contains some of the earliest surviving Welsh poetry and historical texts. 

Many of these works continue to be studied and admired, providing insight into Wales’s rich cultural heritage.

St. David’s teachings have left an indelible mark on Welsh identity, from his rigorous adherence to monastic rule to his emphasis on education and the pursuit of knowledge. The life and legacy of St. David continue to inspire and shape Welsh culture and history. 

By commemorating St. David’s Day and learning about his life, we can better appreciate Welsh culture and its unique position in the world.

Meet the author

Jane Parkinson

Jane Parkinson

Jane is one of our primary content writers and specialises in elder care. She has a degree in English language and literature from Manchester University and has been writing and reviewing products for a number of years.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was St. David, and why is he important to Welsh culture?

St. David is the patron saint of Wales and a significant figure in Welsh culture, with numerous traditions and symbols associated with his legacy. Late in the fifth century, St. David was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, as a monastic. During his lifetime, he was renowned for his piety and was attributed with performing numerous miracles. Eventually, St. David founded his monastery at Glyn Rhosyn, which became a centre of learning and pilgrimage. St. David’s tomb at St. David’s Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage after his death, and his cult gained notoriety throughout Wales.

What are some of the symbols associated with St. David and Welsh culture?

St. David is associated with several symbols that have achieved iconic status within Welsh culture. The daffodil, rumoured to have been St. David’s preferred flower, has become a national symbol of Wales and is a common sight in the country’s gardens and parks. The Welsh dragon, which appears on the Welsh flag, is also said to have been flown by St. David’s army during a conflict with the Saxons. In addition to the harp, the national instrument of Wales, other symbols of Welsh culture include the Welsh language, which is believed to have been spoken by St. David himself.

What is the significance of St. David’s Day, and how is it celebrated in Wales?

St. David’s Day is a national holiday in Wales, observed annually on March 1. The day is celebrated with parades, concerts, and other festivities, including donning traditional Welsh attire and daffodils or leeks (another Welsh symbol)—additionally, numerous institutions and workplaces in Wales host special events to commemorate the day. In addition, churches throughout Wales conduct St. David’s Day services, and some towns and cities host their own St. David’s Day celebrations.

What is the legacy of St. David, and how has he influenced Welsh culture?

St. David’s legacy is significant in Wales and other countries where Welsh communities have become established. His teachings emphasised the significance of education and the pursuit of knowledge, and institutions such as the University of Wales Trinity Saint David carry on this legacy. St. David’s influence is also evident in the numerous traditions and symbols of Welsh culture, including the Welsh language, the daffodil, and the pre-match rituals of the Welsh rugby team. By studying the life and legacy of St. David, we can acquire a greater understanding and appreciation of Welsh culture and its unique place in the world.