Saint David of Wales, Abbott and Bishop
Today is the feast day of Saint David. Ora pro nobis.
Saint David (Dewi Sant) is the the only Welsh saint to be canonized by the Church. While little is factually known about his life, Saint David has been the patron saint of Wales since the 12th century. More than fifty Welsh churches are dedicated in his honor. Unlike the other patron saints of the British Isles, David was born and raised in Wales, a native son of the region.
His father was King Sandde, Prince of Powys, and his mother was Saint Nonni, the daughter of a chieftain of Menevia in western Wales. It is said that David was conceived in violence, and that his mother delivered him on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea during a particularly violent storm. David is said to have been baptised by Ailbe, ‘a bishop of the Munstermen’, who is known to have been in Wales about that time.
David studied at the local monastic school and after he was ordained priest, he went to study under Paulinus of Wales near the Brecon Beacons. He remained with Paulinus for several years and is said to have cured him of blindness. Paulinus sent David out to make his own monastic foundations. Rhygyfarch says David founded monasteries at Glastonbury, Bath and Leominster, but these are more likely to be Rhygyfarch’s own claims to impress the Normans. But the one monastery we know he founded was that of Mynyw (Menevia) near his own birth place on the extreme south west of South Wales, facing Ireland, and now called St David’s.
Celtic legend tells us that Saint David cured the blindness of many, was foretold by angels to Saint Patrick, was rescued from a poisoning attempt by Saint Scuthyn of Ireland who quickly crossed the sea on the back of a sea serpent, and ascended to heaven surrounded by angels. Whether these are the product of local legend or holy truth remains to be seen. What we do know of Saint David is that he tirelessly defended the faith, built up the church, and withstood political pressures of the times to renounce of modify the teachings of God. He entered into even the most menial of tasks with joy, inspiring his brothers to do the same.
Rhygyfarch says David went to the Holy Land with two other Welsh monks Teilo and Padarn and that he was consecrated archbishop of Wales by the patriarch of Jerusalem – probably another exaggeration! He was bishop (probably not archbishop) of Menevia, the Roman port of Menapia in Pembrokeshire, later known as St. David’s, then the chief point of departure for Ireland. He died around 601. His last words inspire us even today, as we prepare for our upcoming Lenten journey, which ends with the Resurrection of Jesus: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”
The cult of St. David was approved by Pope Callistus II in the year 1120 and two pilgrimages to St David’s were declared to be equal in merit to one pilgrimage to Rome. The Catholic diocese of that area of Wales is still called Menevia; the bishop currently lives in Swansea.
Image: Stained glass chapel panel, originally designed by William Burges (2 December 1827 – 20 April 1881), photo by Hchc2009 (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff