In Eventshistory

1st March marks St David’s Day – an important date in the Welsh calendar. Here at Visit Heritage, we’re celebrating by telling you a couple of facts about Britain’s only native-born patron saint.

What we’re actually remembering is the day of his death.

While you might think we’re all celebrating the birth of a saint, St David actually died on 1st March in the year 589. It is believed that he was buried on the site that houses St David’s Cathedral, one of the most historic relics in the Christian world. It is believed to be the oldest cathedral settlement in Britain. At one point, there was a shrine to St David at the cathedral that became a mecca of sorts, with people making pilgrimage to the site throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, two trips to St David’s Cathedral was given the same importance as a trip to the Vatican. St David himself was said to have chosen the site as where he wanted to build his monastery and a shrine to him can still be found there. Perhaps he had an inkling that it would be an important site, back when people were going on pilgrimage, the cathedral held a strategic position, being in the middle of all the major land and sea routes between England, Wales and Ireland.

His last sermon is still a well-used phrase today

St David’s last words are attributed to the final sermon he performed the week before he died. In it, he used the phrase “Gwenewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd” which translates to “Do the little things in life” something that is still said and believed throughout the whole of the UK, not just Wales.

He was born outside in the middle of a storm

We all know Saints get their status through performing miracles, but the fact that he was born in the middle of a storm without any shelter and survived is a miracle in itself. It is believed that St David was born in the year 500. His grandfather was Credig ap Cunedda, the king of Ceredigion. The story goes that his mother gave birth to him on a clifftop in the middle of a fierce storm, the site is today marked by the ruins of Non’s Chapel, which was named after his mother. The site has great religious and historical importance and the nearby well is believed to have healing powers.

Let’s talk about the miracles…

As he grew up, St David became a renowned preacher and founded several monasteries, not only in Wales, but also over the border in England and in Brittany. There are some stories that even attribute Glastonbury’s abbey to him, though there is some debate about this. It is also believed that he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he brought back a stone which still remains at the altar of St David’s Cathedral. The cathedral on the site today replaces his original monastery. Whether or not you believe in miracles, it is hard to deny that he was very devoted and did a lot of work for religion across Britain. Of course, he didn’t gain Sainthood without performing a couple of miracles, his most famous took place at Llanddewi Brefi, in Wales. The story states that he was preaching to a large crowd when people at the back complained that they couldn’t see or hear him, the area he was stood on rose up to form a hill, allowing everyone to see and hear him. Apparently, a white dove landed on his shoulder to indicate that God himself had made it easier for him to spread the word.

St David is the reason why leeks are so important

If you’ve ever wondered why leeks are the national symbol of Wales, then look to St David. It was reputed that he only ate leeks and only drank water – we’re sure such a diet wouldn’t be sustainable, but it is certainly true that he and the monks under his care were teetotal vegetarians. The monks were famed for their austere lifestyle, where they worked the land surrounding the monastery themselves rather than using farm animals and didn’t eat any meat or drink any alcohol.

Speaking of food…

There are a number of traditional Welsh dishes that are consumed during St David’s Day, these include Welsh Cakes, bara brith, which is a type of tea loaf, and Cawl, a soup.

The smallest city in the UK is named for him

The Cathedral sits within St David’s which was given city status in the 12th century and is now the smallest city in the whole of the UK. It has a population of under 2,000 and can be found in Pembrokeshire. There are a number of listed buildings and structures to be found there as well as all the modern facilities you might need and Whitesands Bay, which is known as being one of the best surfing beaches in Pembrokeshire and is among the best beaches in the world.

Connection with Davy Jones’ Locker

There are several stories that talk about the origin of the tale of Davy Jones and his locker, which became prevelant during the Golden Age of Piracy, but one of them involves St David. It has been speculated that the Davy Jones of the story was inspired by St David, as Welsh sailors would invoke his name and of course, Jones is a traditional Welsh name and also bears a resemblance to Jonah – a biblical figure associated with the sea.

It isn’t just celebrated in Wales

Though St David’s Day isn’t a recognised public holiday in England, there are a few celebrations that take place on 1st March. One is the Beer Race which takes place in Exeter. Students in Exeter St David’s compete in a race where they drink a pint of beer between each lap and the first student to finish their laps without throwing up is declared the winner.

Visiting Wales during St David’s Day?
Make sure you’re up on the lingo – here are a few snippets you should know.

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!
(Happy St David’s Day!)

Cymru am byth!
(Wales forever!)

Dawnsio Gwerin
(Folk Dancing)

English: Saint David
Welsh: Dewi Sant
English: St David’s Day
Welsh: Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant or Dydd Gwyl Dewi
English: Daffodli
Welsh: Cennin Pedr
English: (or rather Irish) Craic
Welsh: Hwyl




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