Saint David was a Bishop and Confessor, and is patron of Wales. 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 Saint David’s day, in memory of a battle against the Saxons, at which it is said they wore leeks in their hats, by Saint David’s advice, to distinguish them from their enemies. He is commemorated on 1st March.
The earliest mention of Saint David is found in a tenth-century manuscript the “Annales Cambriae”, which assigns his death to A.D. 601. Little else that can claim to be historical is known about Saint David. The tradition that he was born at Henvynyw (Vetus-Menevia) in Cardiganshire is not improbable. He was prominent at the Synod of Brevi (Llandewi Brefi in Cardiganshire), which has been identified with the important Roman military station, Loventium.
He was Bishop of Menevia, the Roman port Menapia in Pembrokeshire, later known as Saint David’s, then the chief point of departure for Ireland.
Many of the traditional tales about Saint David are found in the “Buchedd Dewi”, a hagiography written by Rhygyfarch in the late 11th century. Modern historians are sceptical of some of its claims: one of Rhygyfarch’s aims was to establish some independence for the Welsh church, which had refused the Roman rite until the 8th Century and now sought a metropolitan status equal to that of Canterbury.
His best-known miracle is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi: the village of Llanddewi Brefi stands on the spot where the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill. A white dove, which became his emblem, was seen settling on his shoulder.
The Monastic Rule of David prescribed that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals, must drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs, and spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: even to say “my book” was considered an offence.
Saint David was canonized by Pope Callistus II in the year 1120.
The illustration shows the stained glass window of Saint David in Jesus College, Oxford.