Who was St David and what is St David's Day?

WALES is celebrating St David's Day today, March 1, with the Welsh being praised for their resilience and "sacrifices" by the First Minister.

But who is their patron saint, St David, and how is the special day celebrated?

Who was Saint David?

St David – or Dewi Sant in Welsh – is generally considered to have been born some time between 462 and 515AD.

His mum was named Non, and his father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion.

According to legend, his mother gave birth to him on a Pembrokeshire clifftop during a fierce storm.

The spot is marked by the ruins of Non’s Chapel, and a nearby holy well is said to have healing powers, writes Visit Wales.

After being educated in Cardiganshire, he went on pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland.

He even went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop.

St David eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David's), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community, explains the National Museum.

Many miracles have been attributed to him.

The most incredible of these was said to have been performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi.

He caused the ground to rise underneath him so that he could be seen and heard by all, according to Rhigyfarch who wrote about him towards the end of the 11th century.

The village of Llanddewi Brefi stands on the spot where the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill.

A white dove, which became his emblem, was seen settling on his shoulder.

What is St David's Day?

Wales celebrates St David's feast day on March 1, in honour of Dewi Sant or St David, the patron saint of Wales, according to legend.

St David died on March 1 – St David’s Day – in 589 AD.

Why do we celebrate St David?

After his death in 589 AD, David was canonised in 1120.

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.’

He was buried at the site of St David's Cathedral, where his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages.

The phrase "Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd" – "Do the little things in life" – is still a well-known maxim in Wales.

From the 12th century, St David's fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany.

St David's Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, particularly after Dewi (St David) was officially recognised as a Catholic saint in 1120.

From this period on, he was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi.

In 1398, it was ordained that his feast day was to be kept by every church in the Province of Canterbury.

Though the feast of St David as a religious festival ended with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the day of his birth became a national festival during the 18th century.

What symbols are associated with St David's Day?

On St David's Day, many people in Wales pin either a daffodil or a leek to their clothes – as the Welsh have two national emblems.

The tradition of eating and wearing leeks on St David’s Day supposedly goes back to the 6th century.

The soldiers of the British king Cadwaladyr were encouraged to wear leeks in their helmets to help them recognise fellow countrymen during a battle with the Saxons, explains Wales Online.

St David was a teetotal vegetarian reputed to have consumed only leeks and water.

But Historic UK says it's likely the Welsh association with the leek predates St David by hundreds and possibly thousands of years, to an age when people worshipped trees, plants and Mother Nature.

 

This pre-dated Christianity – at a time when Druids lived on the Island of Anglesey.

Leeks were hailed as a cure for the cold, protecting soldiers against wounds in battle, and even for keeping away evil spirits.

Entries in the household accounts of the ‘Welsh’ Tudor Kings of England, record payments for leeks worn by the household guards on St David’s Day.

Earlier in the fourteenth century, it is known that the feared Welsh archers adopted the green and white colours of the leek for their uniforms, perhaps at the Battle of Crecy, explains Historic UK.

In 1346, when the Prince of Wales, Edward the Black Prince, defeated the French at the Battle of Crécy, Welsh archers reportedly fought bravely in a field of leeks and as a reminder began to wear a leek in their caps every St David's Day.

Daffodils, which are in bloom around this time of year, have only became another national symbol for Wales in the 19th century.

Wales Online explains that St David's feast day became a national festival during the 18th century.

It states: "By that time the leek had become a bit of a caricature and this may explain why daffodils became a popular alternative."

How is St David's celebrated?

The traditional meal on St David's Day is a soup made of lamb, leeks and other vegetables known as cawl.

The day is celebrated with country festivals and dances – all with a dragon-theme – which take place across Wales on St David's Day.

Images of red dragons are used to celebrate because the dragon features on the Welsh national flag and is often considered a symbol of the country.

Children in Wales take part in school concerts or eisteddfodau, with recitation and singing being the main activities.

The flag of Saint David often plays a central role in the celebrations and can be seen flying throughout Wales. 

Although many associate St David with leeks or daffodils, his personal symbol is actually the dove, after one was said to have rested on his shoulder during a miracle.

Unlike St Patrick's Day in Ireland, St David's Day is not a national holiday, though there is strong support for it becoming a bank holiday in Wales.

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