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BritainUSA Home > All about Britain

Welsh Around the World Celebrate St. David's Day
Public Affairs Team, 2/28/2007

Each year on March 1 the Welsh throughout the world celebrate St. Davidís Day as a patriotic and cultural festival. St. David or Dewi Sant (circa 520-588), the founder and first abbot-bishop of Menevia (now St David's in Pembrokeshire), has been venerated as the patron saint of Wales since the early Middle Ages.

The date of March 1 was chosen in remembrance of the death of Saint David on March 1, 589, and have been celebrated by followers since then. The date was declared a national day of celebration within Wales in the 18th century.

In Wales, St. Davidís Day is celebrated with food and song. The singing of traditional songs may be followed by a Te Bach, tea with bara brith (traditional cake-like fruit bread). The national flag of Wales Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon) is flown or worn as a pin or pendant. The Welsh also wear a leek (the symbol of St. David) or a daffodil (a Welsh symbol that is in season in March), both the national emblems of Wales, on their lapel.

Every year in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the National St. David's Parade is held.

Wales Week, (Feb. 23-March 3, 2007) is a festival held each year in New York around the national holiday of St. David's Day. The festival is a week-long celebration of the best of Wales: the Arts; culture; food and drink; poetry and literature; business; film; and music.

The Life of St. David
St. David contrasts with other national patron saints such as England's St George, in that relatively much is known about his life.

St. David was the son of sanctus rex ceredigionis, where Sanctus has been interpreted as a proper name and its owner honored by Welsh Christians as St. Sant, but the Latin phrase means "holy king of Ceredigion." The king of Ceredigion in the 510s was Gwyddno Garanhir, according to regional tradition. His title Garanhir certainly indicated spiritual accomplishment to the Druids who bestowed it. As son of King Gwyddno, David was grandson of King Ceredig, nephew of King Maelgwn of Gwynedd, and brother of Elphin, the heir to the Kingdom of Ceredigion and the foster-father and first patron of the bard Taliesin.

He became renowned as a teacher and preacher, founding monastic settlements in Britain and Brittany in a period when neighboring tribal regions (that were to be united as England 300 years later) were still mostly pagan. He rose to a bishopric, and presided over two synods, as well as going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem (where he was anointed as a bishop by the Patriarch) and Rome. St David's Cathedral now stands on the site of the monastery he founded in a remote and inhospitable part of Pembrokeshire.

The Monastic Rule of David prescribed that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals; to drink only water; to eat only bread with salt and herbs; and to spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: to say "my book" was an offense. He lived a simple life and practiced asceticism, teaching his followers to refrain from eating meat or drinking alcohol.

The best-known miracle associated with St. David is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd. When those at the back complained that they could not see or hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. The village which is said to stand on the spot today is known as Llanddewi Brefi.

The document that contains much of the traditional tales about David is Buchedd Dewi, a hagiography written by Rhygyfarch in the 11th-12th century. One of Rhygyfarch's aims was that his document could establish some independence for the Welsh church, which was risking losing its independence following the Norman invasion of England in 1066. It is significant that David is said to have denounced Pelagianism during the incident before the ground rose beneath him.

William of Malmesbury recorded that David visited Glastonbury intending to dedicate the Abbey, as well as to donate a travelling altar including a great sapphire. He had a vision of Jesus, who said that "the church had been dedicated long ago by himself in honor of his mother, and it was not seemly that it should be re-dedicated by human hands." So David instead commissioned an extension to be built to the abbey, east of the Old Church. (The dimensions of this extension given by William were verified archaeologically in 1921.) One manuscript indicates that a sapphire altar was among the items King Henry VIII confiscated from the abbey at its dissolution 1,000 years later. There are unverifiable indications that the sapphire may now be among the Crown Jewels.

His last words, according to the Buchedd Dewi, were "Be steadfast, brothers, and do the little things."

Unlike many contemporary "saints" recognized by the Welsh, David was canonized, by Pope Callixtus II in 1120.

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