5th or 6th century. There is no certainty about the date though we know
that St. David was a real personage, son of King Sant, a prince of
Cardigan in far western Wales. All the information we have about him is
based on the 11th century biography written by Rhygyfarch, the son of
Bishop Sulien of St. David's. Rhygyfarch's main purpose was to uphold
the claim of the Welsh bishopric to be independent of Canterbury, so
little reliance can be placed on the document.
David, who may have been born at Henfynw in Cardigan, lived during the
golden age of Celtic Christianity when saints were plentiful, many of
them of noble rank--kings, princes, and chieftain--who lived the
monastic life, built oratories and churches, and preached the Gospel.
Saint Cadoc founded the great monastery of Llancarfan. Saint Illtyd
turned from the life of a soldier to that of a mystic and established
the abbey of Llantwit, where tradition links his name to that of Sir
Galahad. But greatest among them was David, cousin of Cadoc and pupil of
Illtyd, who was educated in the White House of Carmarathen and who
founded the monastery of Menevia in the place that now bears his name.
According to his biography, David became a priest, studied under Saint
Paulinus, the disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre, on an unidentified
island for several years. He then engaged in missionary activities,
founded 12 monasteries from Croyland to Pembrokeshire, the last of
which, at Mynyw (Menevia) in southwestern Wales, was known for the
extreme asceticism of its rule, which was based on that of the Egyptian
Here in this lovely and lonely outpost he gathered his followers. The
Rule was strict, with but one daily meal, frequent fasts, and hours of
unbroken silence. Their days were filled with hard manual labour and no
plough was permitted in the work of the fields.
Every man his own ox,
said St. David. Nor did David exempt himself from the same rigorous
discipline: he drank nothing but water and so came to be known as David
the Waterman; and long after vespers, when the last of his monks had
retired to bed, he prayed on alone through the night.
We are told that he was of a loveable and happy disposition, and an
attractive and persuasive preacher. It was perhaps his mother, the
saintly Non, who had nurtured him carefully in the Christian faith, that
he owed so many of his own fine qualities. It was not surprising,
therefore, that when the time came for the appointment of a new
archbishop of Wales the choice fell upon him.
At Brevi, in Cardiganshire, a great synod had been convened about 550,
attended by a thousand members, but David, who kept aloof from temporal
concerns, remained in his retreat at Menevia. The synod, however,
insisted on sending for him. So great was the crowd and so intense the
excitement that the voice of the aged and retiring archbishop Saint
Dubricius could hardly be heard when he named David as his successor.
David, who at first refused, came forward reluctantly, but when he spoke
his voice was like a silver trumpet, and all could hear and were deeply
moved; and in that hour of his succession a white dove was seen to
settle upon his shoulders as if it were a sign of God's grace and
It is said that David was consecrated archbishop by the patriarch of
Jerusalem and given an altar stone by him while on pilgrimage to the
Holy Land. But he loved Menevia and could not bring himself to leave it
for Caerleon, the seat of the archbishopric, which he transferred to his
own monastery by the wild headlands of the western sea, and which to
this day is known by his name and remains a place of pilgrimage.
Again, although evidence is unreliable, David convened a council, called
the Synod of Victory, because it marked the final demise of Pelagianism,
ratified the edicts of Brevi, and drew up regulations for the British
Giraldus tells us that in his time congregations and monasteries grew
all over Wales and
to these Father David, as if placed upon a lofty
eminence was a mirror and pattern of life.
we are told,
many fountains in dry places, and across the
centuries his words spoken in the hour of death still reach us:
'Brothers and sisters, be joyful and keep your faith and do ther little
On the last Sunday before his death after he had received the Holy
Sacrament he gave the people his blessing bidding them to be joyful and
to keep the Faith for they would see him no more in this world. He died
on the Tuesday 1st March and the monks cried out with anguish
hlep us? Who will pray for us? Who will be a father to us as David was?
St.David was buried in his cathedral and his tomb became, and still is,
a great place of pilgrimage. even the Norman Kings William the Conqueror
and Henry II visiting it to pay homage. Bishop Richard Carew rebuilt the
Cathedral Church largely from offerings at the Shrine and the relics
were translated to their present position to the north side of the
presbytery in 1275.
His birth and death dates are uncertain, ranging from c. 454 to 520 for
the former and from 560 to 601 for the latter
In art, St. David is a Celtic bishop with long hair and a beard, and a
dove perched on his shoulder. He may be shown preaching on a hill, or
holding his cathedral. He is the patron saint of Wales and especially
venerated in Pembrokeshire
No one seems to have a satisfactory
explanation regarding the association of leeks with St. David's Day as
in Shakespeare's Henry V, IV, 1
But..... The leek, and later the daffodil was chosen as the Welsh emblem
because of the colour of the leaves, green above ground and white below,
corresponding to the colours of the national standard with its red
dragon. It is believed that St. David advised King Cadwallader to
distinguish his warriors from the heathen Saxon in battle with the leek
and it would have had the added advantage of making them recognisable in
the dark by the aroma of their insignia!
St. David's Cathedral lies in a hollow in the rugged Goewer peninsular
called in Welsh Mynyw, transliterated into Latin as Menevia, the most
western tip of Britain. The place is pure enchantment, the uneven floor
of the great church seems to move with spiritual power and the little
oaken casket containing the relics of David and Justinian, his confessor
and "soul friend", would move the most sceptical. Every pilgrim should
walk the mile or so up the narrow country lane to St. Non's Well and
chapel, overlooking the rocky coastline with its small islands, for this
is reputed to be the birthplace of Dewi Sant or St. David.
Having worked miracles in thy youth, founded monasteries and converted
the pagans who had sought to destroy thee, O Father David, Christ our
God blessed thee to receive the episcopate at the place of His
Resurrection. Intercede for us, that our lives may be blessed and our
souls may be saved.
The living waters of godly discipline encompassed thee and the saving
waters of faith flowed through thy teaching, O Hierarch and Waterman
David. Symbolising the baptism of Wales in thy life, thou art worthy of
all praise, wherefore we keep festival in thy honour, glorifying thine
Icons of Saint David of Wales:
St. David's Cathedral and Shrine:
The Shrine of Saint David and Saint Justinian
The modern reliquary is behind the seats of those attending services in a
pretty chapel dedicated to The Trinity.