March 1, 2021

Saint David, Bishop of Wales (+ 601)

St. David of Wales (Feast Day - March 1)
Saint David was the son of King Sant, a prince of Cardigan in far western Wales. All the information we have about him is based on the 11th century biography written by Rhygyfarch, the son of Bishop Sulien of St. David's. Rhygyfarch's main purpose was to uphold the claim of the Welsh bishopric to be independent of Canterbury, so little reliance can be placed on the document.

David, who may have been born at Henfynw in Cardigan, lived during the golden age of Celtic Christianity when saints were plentiful, many of them of noble rank--kings, princes, and chieftain--who lived the monastic life, built oratories and churches, and preached the gospel.

Saint Cadoc founded the great Monastery of Llancarfan. Saint Illtyd turned from the life of a soldier to that of a mystic and established the Abbey of Llantwit, where tradition links his name to that of Sir Galahad. But greatest among them was David, cousin of Cadoc and pupil of Illtyd, who was educated in the White House of Carmarathen and who founded the Monastery of Menevia in the place that now bears his name.

According to his biography, David became a priest, studied under Saint Paulinus, the disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre, on an unidentified island for several years. He then engaged in missionary activities, founded twelve monasteries from Croyland to Pembrokeshire, the last of which, at Mynyw (Menevia) in southwestern Wales, was known for the extreme asceticism of its rule, which was based on that of the Egyptian Desert Fathers.

Here in this lovely and lonely outpost he gathered his followers. The Monastic Rule of David was strict, with but one daily meal of only bread with salt and herbs (eating meat and drinking beer were prohibited), frequent fasts, the drinking only of water, and hours of unbroken silence. Their days were filled with hard manual labor and no plough was permitted in the work of the fields. "Every man his own ox," said Saint David. The monks spent their evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: even to say "my book" was considered an offence. Nor did David exempt himself from the same rigorous discipline: he drank nothing but water and so came to be known as David the Waterman; and long after Vespers, when the last of his monks had retired to bed, he prayed on alone through the night.

We are told that he was of a lovable and happy disposition, and an attractive and persuasive preacher. It was perhaps his mother, the saintly Non, who had nurtured him carefully in the Christian faith, that he owed so many of his own fine qualities. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the time came for the appointment of a new Archbishop of Wales the choice fell upon him.

At Brevi, in Cardiganshire, a great synod had been convened about 550, attended by a thousand members, but David, who kept aloof from temporal concerns, remained in his retreat at Menevia. The synod, however, insisted on sending for him. So great was the crowd and so intense the excitement that the voice of the aged and retiring Holy Archbishop Dubricius could hardly be heard when he named David as his successor. David, who at first refused, came forward reluctantly, but when he spoke his voice was like a silver trumpet, and all could hear and were deeply moved; and in that hour of his succession a white dove was seen to settle upon his shoulders as if it were a sign of God's grace and blessing.

It is said that David was consecrated Archbishop by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and given an altar stone by him while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But he loved Menevia and could not bring himself to leave it for Caerleon, the seat of the archbishopric, which he transferred to his own monastery by the wild headlands of the western sea, and which to this day is known by his name and remains a place of pilgrimage.

Again, although evidence is unreliable, David convened a synod, called the Synod of Victory, because it marked the final demise of Pelagianism, ratified the edicts of Brevi, and drew up regulations for the British Church.

Giraldus tells us that in his time congregations and monasteries grew all over Wales and "to these Father David, as if placed upon a lofty eminence was a mirror and pattern of life."

"He opened," we are told, "many fountains in dry places, and across the centuries his words spoken in the hour of death still reach us: 'Brothers and sisters, be joyful and keep your faith and do the little things.'"

On the last Sunday before his death after he had received Divine Communion he gave the people his blessing bidding them to be joyful and to keep the faith for they would see him no more in this world. He died on Tuesday the 1st of March and the monks cried out with anguish: "Who will help us? Who will pray for us? Who will be a father to us as David was?"

Saint David was buried in his cathedral and his tomb became, and still is, a great place of pilgrimage. Even the Norman Kings William the Conqueror and Henry II visited it to pay homage. Bishop Richard Carew rebuilt the Cathedral Church largely from offerings at the Shrine and the relics were translated to their present position to the north side of the presbytery in 1275.

His birth and death dates are uncertain, ranging from c. 454 to 520 for the former and from 560 to 601 for the latter.

In art, Sain David is a Celtic bishop with long hair and a beard, and a dove perched on his shoulder. He may be shown preaching on a hill, or holding his cathedral. He is the patron saint of Wales and especially venerated in Pembrokeshire (Roeder). No one seems to have a satisfactory explanation regarding the association of leeks with Saint David's Day as in Shakespeare's Henry V, IV, 1:

Fluellen: "If your Majesty is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your Majesty knows, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service, and I do believe, your Majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's day". King Henry: "I wear it for a memorable honour; for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman".

But, the leek, and later the daffodil, was chosen as the Welsh emblem because of the color of the leaves, green above ground and white below, corresponding to the colors of the national standard with its red dragon. It is believed that Saint David advised King Cadwallader to distinguish his warriors from the heathen Saxon in battle with the leek and it would have had the added advantage of making them recognisable in the dark by the aroma of their insignia!

Saint David's Cathedral lies in a hollow in the rugged Goewer peninsula called in Welsh Mynyw, transliterated into Latin as Menevia, the most western tip of Britain. The place is pure enchantment, the uneven floor of the great church seems to move with spiritual power and the little oaken casket containing the relics of David and Justinian, his confessor and "soul friend", would move the most skeptical. Every pilgrim should walk the mile or so up the narrow country lane to Saint Non's Well and Chapel, overlooking the rocky coastline with its small islands, for this is reputed to be the birthplace of Dewi Sant or Saint David.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Having worked miracles in thy youth, founded monasteries and converted the pagans who had sought to destroy thee, O Father David, Christ our God blessed thee to receive the episcopate at the place of His Resurrection. Intercede for us, that our lives may be blessed and our souls may be saved.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Second Tone
The living waters of godly discipline encompassed thee and the saving waters of faith flowed through thy teaching, O Hierarch and Waterman David. Symbolizing the baptism of Wales in thy life, thou art worthy of all praise, wherefore we keep festival in thy honor, glorifying thine eternal memory.
Cathedral of Saint David
Shrine of Saint David
Relics of Saint David