Saint David of Wales: Patron of Poets and Wales
On March 1, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint David of Wales, the patron of the Welsh people and one of the most prominent British saints. He is commemorated as a sixth century missionary bishop and the founder of numerous monasteries, including his main abbey in southwestern Wales.
David was a popular namesake for churches in Wales prior to the Anglican schism. More than fifty churches in Wales were named after him. His feast day continues to be an important religious and civic observance today.
Although Pope Benedict XVI did not visit Wales during his 2010 trip to the U.K., he blessed a mosaic icon of its patron, and praised St. David as “one of the great saints of the sixth century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and…thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe.”
Little is known of David’s life. However, we do know that he was born to Sant, a prince of Cardigan, and St. Non, the daughter of a chieftain in around 500 AD. Saint Non, is honored on her feast day, March 3.
David served as the Bishop of Menevia, an important port city linking Wales and Ireland in his time. His leading role in two local councils of the Church is also a matter of record.
David founded twelve monasteries and developed a reputation for strict asceticism. His monks modeled their lives after the earliest desert hermits – combining hard manual labor, silence, long hours of prayer, and a diet that completely excluded meat and alcohol. They diet consisted primarily of bread, vegetables, and water.
One tradition places his death in the year 601, but other writers believe he died in the 540s. David may well have survived to an advanced age, but evidence is lacking for the claim (made by his 11th-century biographer) that he lived to the age of 147. His dying words to his monks were: “Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep your faith, and do the little things that you have seen and heard with me.”
Pope Callistus II canonized St. David of Wales in 1120. His remains were buried in St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, which became a popular place of pilgrimage following his canonization. In addition to being the patron saint of Wales, St. David is also the patron saint of poets.
St. David is often pictured with a dove on his shoulder. It is said that once while he was preaching a dove descended to his shoulder and the earth rose to lift him high above the people so that he could be heard.