David

Bishop, Patron Saint of Wales

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St David, Stained glass chapel panel, by William Burges

In spite of the fact that David (Dewi) is so well known among the saints of Britain, we know very little facts about him. Where facts are short, legend however is not, but the earliest biography wasn't written until some 500 years after his death.

Both David's parents were descended from Welsh royalty. He was the son of Sant, king of Ceredigion, and Non, daughter of a chieftain of Menevia (now the little cathedral town of St David's). A local ruler (possibly Aergol Lawhir) learned of this pregnancy and feared the power of the child to be born. He plotted to kill him upon birth, but on the day of her labour a great storm made it impossible for anyone to travel outdoors. Only the place where Nonita groaned with birth-pangs Capel Non (Non's chapel) was bathed in light.

He was baptised by the Irish monk St. Elvis, and educated at the monastery of Hen Fynyw. After ordination, David was taught by the elderly monk Paulinus, whose blindness the young David healed by making the sign of the cross over the monk's eyelids. David was an abbot-bishop, and that he founded a dozen monasteries, of which the main one was at Menevia - St David’s in Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales. The monastic rule, based on the rule of Egyptian monks, was extremely strict. Hard manual labour had to be performed by all, and they spoke only when absolutely necessary. David was traditionally known as “the Waterman”, for water was the only drink allowed, probably with a little milk added on festivals.

It is legend that David attended the Synod (Church Council meeting) in Brefi, about 560, and that he spoke there, so well and with such passion that he was then elected primate (Bishop) of the church in Wales. It is also legend that he made the long pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But there is no proof of these. He must, however, have been a man of strong character, with gifts of leadership and of great goodness. He has been looked upon as the patron saint of Wales since the 12th century.

There are over 50 churches dedicated to David in South Wales, and some 30 in England, mostly in Devon and Cornwall. The dates of both his birth and death are uncertain, though 520 and 601 respectively have been accepted by most writers. He died at his monastery at Menevia. He gave his life back to God with his last words, “O Lord, raise me up after you.”

BORN: c. 500 Caerfai, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

DIED: 1 March 589 St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales