Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, was a member of the royal House of Ceredigion, and founder of the Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (known as the The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Pembrokeshire, where St David’s Cathedral stands today.
What little we know about St David comes from an account of his life written by the scribe and historian Rhigyfarch towards the end of the 11th century. This manuscript tells us that David, or Dewi, died in the year 589, and that he was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion.
Educated in Cardiganshire, Dewi went on a pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded the religious centres at Glastonbury and Croyland. It is even claimed that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop.
On completing his travels, Dewi settled at Glyn Rhosyn (modern St David’s), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community.
Many miracles have been attributed to Dewi, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi, when it is said he caused the ground to rise underneath him so that he could be seen and heard by all present.
Officially recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 1120, Dewi’s fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany throughout the twelfth century. St David’s Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, and was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi.
It wasn’t until 1398 however, that St David was given a feast-day, which was to be kept by every church in the Province of Canterbury every year.
Today, the Welsh continue to celebrate St David’s Day on March 1 by wearing badges of the Welsh National symbol, the leek, and with cultural events taking place throughout Wales.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.