Saint David
(Dewi Sant)


 

"Be joyful, and keep your faith and creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about."


A Hymn for St. David's Day

Tune:  Blaenwern

Like the sound of many waters
Let the Church's anthems rise
For our father, great Saint David,
Throned above the starlit skies;
As on earth he sang God's glory,
Guided by his Holy Dove,
Still his voice in worship mingles
With angelic songs above.

David, Guardian of Christ's people,
Shepherd of his flock indeed,
Tending, feeding, and protecting,
Watching them in hours of need;
May thy voice in strong entreaty
To the throne of God ascend,
With prevailing intercession
All who seek thine aid befriend.

Honour be to God and blessing,
Lord of endless power and might,
Glorious in his Saints we praise him,
Glory to him in the height;
Be eternal adoration
Paid by all the Angel Host,
To the Godhead, high, majestic,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

 

March 1st is the Feast of Saint David (in Welsh, Dewi Sant) of Mynyw (Menevia), the patron saint of Wales.  Born in the latter half of the 5th century, he was the son of a noble woman named Non.  She had entered the religious life at the convent of Ty Gwyn, but her beauty had attracted the attention of a local prince who forced himself upon her, leaving her pregnant with the future saint.  David was born in the midst of a violent storm on the coast near Menevia (modern Saint Davids).  The ruins of a chapel and a holy well mark the spot to this day.  Some sources say that David was related to King Arthur (either his mother's uncle or her nephew) and the great Welsh bard Taliesin (his half-brother's foster son).

Given his mother's religious vocation, it is not surprising that David was drawn to a vocation in the Church early on.  He studied under Saint Paulinus of Wales and Saint Illtyd and, after he was ordained to the priesthood, he set about evangelizing the still largely pagan land of Wales.  He founded several monasteries, the greatest of which was at Menevia where he presided as abbot. The rule of this monastery emphasized simplicity of life.  The monks did not use animals to pull the plough, but pulled it themselves.  They did not drink wine or eat meat.  David himself got the nickname "the waterman" from the fact that he drank only water and also because he would often spend hours immersed up to his neck in cold water while he prayed.

After founding the monastery at Menevia, David went with two of his followers, Saints Teilo and Padarn, on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  There, it is said, they were consecrated as bishops by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.  Upon their return to Wales in 545, David was summoned to a synod of the Church in Wales at Brefi (later known as Llandewi Brefi, "the holy place of David at Brefi").  The synod was called to address matters of church discipline and to deal with the spreading heresy of Pelagianism.  As David preached eloquently against heresy, the ground miraculously rose up beneath him so that all who were present could see him and hear him more clearly.  And a dove settled upon his shoulder as a sign of God's grace.  Moreover, Saint Dyfrig, then Archbishop of Wales, was so moved that he resigned the archbishopric in favor of David.  As Archbishop, David relocated the primatial see from Caerleon to Menevia.

David's exploits also took him to the ancient British holy place of Glastonbury.  He went, intending to consecrate the church there, but was warned in a dream that our Lord himself had already consecrated the ancient church there in honor of his Mother.  So David had a new church built on to the east end of the old church and endowed it with a famous sapphire altar.  David lived to a very great age and died on March 1, 589, in Menevia where he was buried and where his relics are still venerated to this day in the cathedral and city which now bear his name.  In his last sermon to his monastic brothers, he urged them to "Be joyful, and keep your faith and creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about."  To "do the little things" became a popular saying in Wales, a reminder that the pursuit of holiness does not require great heroics but is just as frequently found in a life of simplicity and quiet faith.  

Once, during a battle with Saxon invaders, the Welsh were unable to distinguish between friend and foe on the battlefield. St. David suggested that the Welsh fighters wear a leek on their hats. They did, and they won the battle. Ever since, the leek has been the national symbol of Wales. On Saint David's Day, the tradition is to wear a leek on your lapel or on your hat.  Leek cawl (soup) and other dishes made with leeks are eaten on this day.  Modern recipes for leek cawl generally have bacon or chicken stock, but a version that would be more in keeping with the ascetical practices of the saint, and with the Lenten season in which his feast often falls, would omit meat of any sort.  The leek and the daffodil share the same Welsh name, ceninen, so the daffodil has also become a popular symbol of Saint David and of Wales.

 

Children wearing their St David's Day leeks
1 March 1957

Geoff Charles Collection - The National Library of Wales

Geoff Charles' worked as a photojournalist in Wales from the 1930s to the 1970s and was the photographer of record in Welsh-speaking Wales for most of that period. Today his archive is one of the treasures of the National Library of Wales.

 

Another Hymn for St. David's Day
Tune:  Old 81st or St James

We praise thy name, all-holy Lord,
For him, the beacon-light
That shone beside our western sea
Through mists of ancient night;
Who sent to Ireland's fainting Church
New tidings of thy word
For David, prince of Cambrian saints,
We praise thee, holy Lord.

For all the saintly band whose prayers
Still gird our land about,
Of whom, lest men disdain their praise,
The voiceless stones cry out;
Our hills and vales on every hand
Their names and deeds record:
For these, thy ancient hero host,
We praise thee, holy Lord.

Grant us but half their burning zeal,
But half their iron faith,
But half their charity of heart,
And fortitude to death;
That we with them and all thy saints
May in thy truth accord,
And ever in thy holy Church
May praise thee, holy Lord.

                             Words: Ebenezer Newell (1853-1916)

 

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