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The significance of St David's Day

For centuries the first of March has been a national festival. St David was recognized as a national patron saint a very long time ago, at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. In our time, on this one day, everyone and anyone with a connection to Wales remembers their Welsh origins and connections.

In 2003 in the United States, St David's Day was recognized officially as the national day of the Welsh, and on 1st March the Empire State Building was floodlit in the national colours, red, green and white. It is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts. On this day many people wear (where they can find them!) a daffodil, traditionally Wales's national flower.

St David's Day unites Welsh people from Patagonia to Siberia in a celebration of their shared identity.

Spurious, and even mischievous, arguments have been put forward recently about the 'cost to the economy' of 'yet another' official national holiday in the United Kingdom. Yet the UK has fewer such holidays than almost any other country in Europe. To honour our patron saint, our heritage, our history, and to celebrate our talents and achievements, and a shared present and future is scarcely too much to ask!

Above politics and petty differences, St David is a peerless, noble figurehead for the Welsh nation, a unifying and benevolent symbol in a dangerous and greedy world. In the Armes Prydain, an epic written more than a thousand years ago, the poet prophesied that in the future, when all might seem lost to us, the Cymry would unite to follow David as their leader: 'A lluman glān Dewi a ddyrchafant' ..... 'And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi' .

Who was 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 Davids 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, having been born in south Wales, is said to have spent some time at Glyn Rhosyn before embarking 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 Rhosyn 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. Over fifty churches and innumerable holy wells were dedicated to him in Wales alone.

The religious centre of St Davids 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.' St Davids has for more than a millennium been the spiritual heart of our nation and the focus of its ideals.

The date of Dewi Sant's death is recorded as 1st March, but the year is uncertain - possibly 589. 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 these islands to have been born in the land which adopted him.

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March 1st 2008
Mawrth 1af 2008

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