St. David, Dewi Sant, Bishop and Confessor, is the patron saint of the Welsh. His feast day, is celebrated as a patriotic and cultural festival by the Welsh in Wales and around the world.
He is usually represented standing on a little hill, with a dove on his shoulder. From time immemorial the Welsh have worn a leek on St. David's day, in memory of a battle against the Saxons, at which it is said they wore leeks in their hats, by St. David's advice, to distinguish them from their enemies.
He began his religious life on the island of Wight, under Saint Paulinus, a disciple of Saint Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, sent to Britain by Pope Saint Celestine to arrest the ravages of the heresy of a certain abbot named Pelagius, in the same region. When his virtue had grown strong by practice, he went to preach on the mainland; he built a chapel at Glastonbury and founded twelve monasteries, the principal one in the valley of Ross, and several religious centers in Wales and western England. He was consecrated archbishop by the Patriarch during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The earliest mention of St. David is found in a tenth-century manuscript Of the "Annales Cambriae", which assigns his death to A.D. 601. Many other writers, from Geoffrey of Monmouth down to Father Richard Stanton, hold that he died about 544, but their opinion is based solely on data given in various late "lives" of St. David, and there seems no good reason for setting aside the definite statement of the "Annales Cambriae", which is now generally accepted.
The tradition that he was born at Henvynyw (Vetus-Menevia) in Cardiganshire. He was prominent at the Synod of Brevi (Llandewi Brefi in Cardiganshire), which has been identified with the important Roman military station, Loventium. Shortly afterwards, in 569, he presided over another synod held at a place called Lucus Victoriae. He was Bishop (or Archbishop) of Menevia, the Roman port Menapia in Pembrokeshire, later known as St. David's, then the chief point of departure for Ireland. St. David was proclaimed a Saint by the Welsh and British after his death and was considered such by the entire pre-Schism Church. Hundreds of years later he was canonized by Pope Callistus II in the year 1120 The reason for this "formula" canonization can only be guessed, but it was shortly after the Great Schism, and at that time the Welsh and Irish were more Orthodox in liturgy and practice than they were Roman.
The first biography that has come down to us was written near the end of the eleventh century, about 500 years after the saint's death, by Rhygyfarch (Ricemarchus), a son of the then bishop of St. David's. Giraldus Cambriensis, William of Malmesbury, Geoffrey of Monmouth, John de Tinmouth, and John Capgrave all simply copy and enlarge upon the work of Rhygyfarch, whilst the anonymous author of the late Welsh life printed in Rees, "Cambro-British Saints" (Cott. MS. Titus, D. XXII) adds little.
According to these writers St. David was the son of Sant or Sandde ab Ceredig ab Cunnedda, Prince of Keretica (Cardiganshire) and said by some to be King Arthur's nephew, though Geoffrey of Monmouth calls St. David King Arthur's uncle. The saint's mother was Nonna, or Nonnita (sometimes called Melaria), a daughter of Gynyr of Caergawch. The ruins of a small chapel dedicated to her memory may be seen near St. David's Cathedral. Its ruins remain there now.
St. David's birth had been foretold thirty years before by an angel to St. Patrick. It took place at "Old Menevia" somewhere about A.D. 454. Prodigies preceded and accompanied the event, and at his baptism at Porth Clais by St. Elvis of Munster, "whom Divine Providence brought over from Ireland at that conjuncture", a blind man was cured by the baptismal water. St. David's early education was received from St. Illtyd at Caerworgorn (Lanwit major) in Glamorganshire. Afterwards he spent ten years studying the Holy Scriptures at Witland in Carmarthenshire, under St. Paulinus, (Pawl Hen), whom he cured of blindness by the sign of the cross.
At the end of this period St. Paulinus, warned by an agnel, sent out the young saint to evangelize the British. St. David journeyed throughout the West, founding or restoring twelve monasteries (among which occur the great names of Glastonbury, Bath, and Leominster), and finally settled in the Vale of Ross, where he and his monks lived a life of extreme austerity. Here occurred the temptations of his monks by the obscene antics of the maid-servants of the wife of Boia, a local chieftan. Here also his monks tried to poison him, but St. David, warned by St. Scuthyn, who crossed from Ireland in one night on the back of a sea creature, blessed the poisoned bread and ate it without harm. From thence, with St. Teilo and St. Padarn, he set out for Jerusalem, where he was made bishop by the patriarch.
Here too St. Dubric and St. Daniel found him, when they came to call him to the Synod of Brevi "against the Pelagians". St. David was with difficulty persuaded to accompany them. On the way he raised a widow's son to life. At the Sybnod in Llandewi Brefi those on the outer edges could not hear, so he spread a handkerchief on the ground, and stood on it to preach, whereupon the ground swelled up beneath him forming a hill, and all could hear. He spoke so eloquently that all the heretics were confounded.
St. Dubric resigned the "Archbishopric of Caerleon", and St. David was appointed in his stead. One of his first acts was to hold, in the year 569, yet another synod called "Victory", against the Pelagians, of which the decrees were confirmed by the pope. With the permission of King Arthur he removed his see from Caerleon to Menevia, whence he governed the British Church for many years with great holiness and wisdom. He died a the great age of 147 (he was probably actually in his eighties), on the day predicted by himself a week earlier. His body is said to have been translated to Glastonbury in the year 966.
March 1, the date given by Rhygyfarch for the death of Dewi Sant, was celebrated as a religious festival up until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. In the 18th century it became a national festival among the Welsh, and continues as such to this day. The celebration usually entails singing and eating, which may mean a meal followed by singing, or much singing followed by a Te Bach, tea with teisen bach and bara brith. Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, is flown as a flag or worn as a pin or pendant, and leeks are worn, and sometimes eaten. In schools in Wales the boys take leeks to school, status being given to those who bring the biggest leeks, and eat them earliest in the day.
St. David's Day meetings are not boisterous celebrations of democracy and freedom in Wales, but rather the subdued remembrance allowed a captive nation under colonial rule.