We all know that the 1st of March is St David’s (patron saint of Wales) day in Wales, but how much do we actually know about him?
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Not much is known about St David except from a biography written in 1090 by Rhygyfarch, son of the Bishop of St.Davids.
St David was born around 500 AD in Pembrokeshire. Legend has it that his mother, Non, gave birth to him on a cliff top during a fierce storm and that is where St Non’s chapel is located today.
Both his parents decended from Welsh royalty. He was the son of Sandde, prince of Powys and Non, the daughter of Menevia (now know as St David’s)
St David became a renowned preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Brittany and southwest England – including, possibly, the abbey at Glastonbury. St David reputedly made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, from which he brought back a stone that now sits in an altar at St Davids Cathedral, built on the site of his original monastery.
St David and his monks followed a simple, austere life. They ploughed the fields by hand and refrained from eating meat or drinking beer. Many crafts were followed – beekeeping was particularly important. The monks had to keep themselves fed as well as provide food and lodging for travellers. They also looked after the poor.
According to legend David performed several miracles during his life, the most famous miracle took place when he was preaching to a large crowd in Llanddewi Brefi. When people at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood rose up to form a hill.
It is also said that during a battle against the Saxons, David advised his soldiers to wear leeks in their hat so that they could easily be distinguished from their enemies, which is why the leek is one of the emblems of Wales now!
St David died on the 1st of March – St David’s Day – in 589. He was buried at the site of St Davids Cathedral, where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. His last words to his followers came from a sermon he gave on the previous Sunday: ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’ The phrase ‘Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’ – ‘Do the little things in life’ – is still a well-known phrase in Wales.
After his death, his influence spread far and wide, first through Britain and then by sea to Cornwall and Brittany. In 1120, Pope Callactus II canonised David as a Saint. Following this he was declared Patron Saint of Wales. Such was Davids influence that many pilgrimages were made to St. David’s, and the Pope decreed that two pilgrimages made to St. Davids equalled one to Rome while three were worth one to Jerusalem. Fifty churches in South Wales alone bear his name.
And that’s the story of our Patron Saint!