Saint of the day – 1 March – St David of Wales (Birth date unknown, estimated at c. 500 in Caerfai, Pembrokeshire, Wales. Died 1 March 589 at St David’s, Pembrokeshire, Wales) – Bishop/Monk/Missionary/Founder – Patron of Wales, Pembrokeshire; Naas; vegetarians; poets, doves.
Born to the Welsh royalty, the son of King Sandde, Prince of Powys and of Saint Non, the daughter of a chieftain of Menevia (western Wales). Grandson of Ceredig, Prince of Cardigan. Uncle of King Arthur. Priest. David studied under Saint Paul Aurelian. Worked with Saint Columbanus, Saint Gildas the Wise and Saint Finnigan. Missionary and founder of monasteries.
Following his contribution to the synod of Brevi in Cardiganshire, he was chosen primate of the Cambrian Church. Archbishop of Caerleon on Usk, he moved the see to Menevia. Presided at the Synod of Brefi which condemned the Pelagian heresy. He encouraged the life of austerity and founded monasteries. David was the first to build a chancel to Saint Joseph of Arimathea’s wattle church at Glastonbury.
After a vision in his monastery in the Rhos Valley, he set out next day with two monks to Jerusalem to aid the Patriarch. While there his preaching converted anti-Christians. Legend says that once while he was preaching, a dove descended to his shoulder to show he had the blessings of the Spirit and that the earth rose to lift him high above the people so that he could be heard by them all. Another time when was preaching to a crowd at Llandewi Brefi, people on the outer edges could not hear, so he spread a handkerchief on the ground, stood on it and the ground beneath rose up in a pillar so all could hear.
Though the exact date of his death is not certain, tradition holds that it was on March 1, which is the date now marked as Saint David’s Day. The two most common years given for his death are 601 and 589. The monastery is said to have been “filled with angels as Christ received his soul.” His last words to his followers were in a sermon on the previous Sunday. The Welsh Life of St David gives these as, “Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. And as for me, I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.” “Do ye the little things in life” is today a very well known phrase in Welsh. The same passage states that he died on a Tuesday, from which attempts have been made to calculate the year of his death.
David was buried at St David’s Cathedral at St Davids, Pembrokeshire, where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. During the 10th and 11th centuries the Cathedral was regularly raided by Vikings, who removed the shrine from the church and stripped off the precious metal adornments. In 1275 a new shrine was constructed, the ruined base of which remains to this day which was originally surmounted by an ornamental wooden canopy with murals of David, Patrick and Denis. The relics of David and Justinian of Ramsey Island were kept in a portable casket on the stone base of the shrine. It was at this shrine that Edward I came to pray in 1284. During the reformation Bishop Barlow (1536–48), a staunch Protestant, stripped the shrine of its jewels and confiscated the relics of David and Justinian.
David was officially recognised at the Holy See by Pope Callixtus II in 1120, thanks to the work of Bernard, Bishop of St David’s. Over 50 churches in South Wales were dedicated to him in pre-Reformation days.
In the 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology, David is listed under 1 March with the Latin name Dávus. He is recognised as bishop of Menevia in Wales who governed his monastery following the example of the Eastern Fathers. Through his leadership, many monks went forth to evangelise Wales, Ireland, Cornwall and Armorica (Brittany and surrounding provinces).
Welsh tradition says that during a battle against the Anglo-Saxons, David advised the Welsh warriors each to wear a leek in his hat or armour so that the warriors might distinguish themselves from their enemies. Ever since then, the Welsh wear leeks every March 1 in memory of David.