It seems fitting that my blog should start on St. David’s Day – the beginning of Welsh pride as the year begins, flowing with Daffodils, Cawl Cennin (Leek and Lamb stew), all kinds of goodies for children and the flow of love and kindness towards all.
This morning, as the warmth started to flow and the day started to brighten with the lapping rays of the spring sun, I explained to my husband that Wales is in essence a culture of social networks rather than hierarchical institutions. This is the fabric of the nation. Traditional villages were dispersed, the cohesion actualised by the neighbourly care of one for another. The most important social values and realisation of status being driven by “who you knew and who you belonged to” as opposed to what kind of social status had been acquired. This is a totally alien, Anglo-Saxon phenomenon that plagues societies in many Commonwealth countries as well as those influenced by the Anglo Saxons at large.
So a little of the history of St. David – courtesy of Wikipedia…
St. David – Dewi Sant
St. David was born towards the end of the fifth century, less than a hundred years after the last Roman legions had marched out of Wales. He was the son of Sant a scion of the royal house of Ceredigion, his mother was Non, daughter of Cynyr of Caio, remembered by numerous churches and holy wells in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Educated at Henfynyw (Old Menevia) in Ceredigion, where he ‘learned the alphabet, the psalms, the lessons for the whole year, the Masses and the Synaxis’, he founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosin (The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Sir Benfro, at the spot where St. David’s Cathedral stands today. The spot may well have been the site of a very early religious community, for it is also associated with St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who was also born in Wales and is said to have spent time at Glyn Rhosyn before embarking again (this time voluntarily) for Ireland from Porth Mawr nearby.
David’s fame as a teacher and ascetic spread throughout the Celtic world. He earned the curious nickname Dewi Ddyfrwr – David the Waterman – no doubt reflecting the harsh bread-and-water regime of Celtic monks. Many traditions and legends are associated with him. When he rose to address to a great crowd at a synod at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, the ground rose under his feet forming a little hill so that all could hear him speak. Again, a golden-beaked dove is said to have landed on his shoulder as a symbol of his holiness.
His foundation at Glyn Rhosin became one of the most important shrines of the Christian world, and the most important centre in Wales. Roads and tracks from all over the nation led to it and in the Middle Ages two pilgrimages to Menevia was equal to one to Rome (Dos i Rufain unwaith ac i Fynyw ddwywaith). Over fifty churches and innumerable holy wells were dedicated to him in Wales alone.
The religious centre of St David’s thus became a focus for the religious aspirations of the Welsh nation and as Gerallt Cymro (Giraldus Cambrensis) relates: The Bishopric of St Davids became … a symbol of the independence of Wales … and that is why David himself was exalted into a Patron Saint of Wales.
The date of Dewi Sant’s death is recorded as March 1st, but the year is uncertain – possibly 588. As his tearful monks prepared for his death St David uttered these words: ‘Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil’ and as he died ‘Lords, brothers and sisters, be cheerful, keep the faith, and do those little things which ye have seen me do and heard me say.’
Dewi Sant, was incidentally, the only patron saint of the four chief nations of the British Isles to have been born in the land which adopted him.