St David's is an important day, full of celebration in Wales.
I would only wish a few things:
- That the day would bring more Welsh people back to the Catholic Faith and the Sacraments as celebrated by St David.
- That more of the English and Scots would celebrate St George's and St Andrew's (I need not mention the Irish!). I'm not greedy, I would like nationhood to be a shared joy, and our Catholic heritage likewise.
The History of Dewi Sant (St David)
The Literary Sources
Dewi (David) is the patron saint of Wales, whose feast day is the 1st of March. He lived about 580 AD, about a century after the withdrawal of Rome from the British Isles and some half century after the time of Arthur (effectively during the time of the final Anglo-Saxon conquest of England).
In Wales, this is the 'time of the saints' where the Cymry (Welsh) were finally completely Christianized (possibly as a result of the Saxon threat) and where the majority of modern Churches (llanau — literally 'sacred enclosures' were established).
David himself is known primarily from early Medieval texts in Latin and Welsh known as the Buchedd Dewi (Life of St David) and it is in these that we find out most about David as an historical character. This was written during the 11th century by Rhigyfarch, eldest son of Sulien Ddoeth (Sulien the Wise, who was Bishop of St David's between 1071–78 and 1080–85). Rigyfarch probably wrote the Life of St David with the express aim of could establishing some independence for the Welsh church, which was risking losing its independence following the Norman invasion of England in 1066. This failed, as Rhigyfarch's father was the last independent Welsh bishop of St David's.
Outside the Buchedd Dewi other references to Dewi occur. The first of these was a stone that used to sit in the doorway to the chancel of the Chapel at Llanddewibrefi (see below) that probably dated near the foundation of the church (c 650AD). The stone is broken now, but it was recorded during the 18th century. Dewi is also mentioned in the catalogue of Irish saints (c 730AD). A further Iris text from c 800AD (the Félire Oengusso Céli Dé [Martyrology of Angus the Culdee]) names St David and gives March 1st as his feast day, the first known reference to St David's day.
Dewi is also mentioned in the Life of Paul of Léon written in 884 AD. The next reference comes from Asser, author of the Life of King Alfred (completed c 893 AD). Interestingly, Asser must have been a Welshman for he uses the Welsh form of Dewi's name Degui in this work, rather than the Latinate form and he refers to the 'Church at St Davids and the bishopric thereof'.
The next reference comes from a poem in the Book of Taliesin know as Arymes Prydein Fawr (The Great Prophecy of Britain). This was written c 930AD and there are several references:
To god and Dewi did they commend themselves
Through the intercession of Dewi and Britain's saints.
may Dewi be the leader of our warriors
Here, Dewi is invoked as the protector of the Cymry (Welsh) and these are the first references we have to him as Wales' patron saint.
Of the British patron saints David is unique in that he is native to the country he represents and he's a well-documented historical figure. Indeed, in many ways more is known about him than many of his contemporaries. Though most of the information we have comes from Rhigyfarch's 'Life of St David' and also from the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) who wrote a book about his travels through Wales in the 12th century.