LEGENDARY & MYTHICAL FIGURES
Travel is people. You may go abroad to see the famous sites, but
what you remember best are the people you meet. Among them, like
unexpected treasure, are a few memorable contacts that will make
your travels unique, special, and delightful. "People" is devoted to some
of those you may come in contact with during your Home At First travels.
ST. DAVID —
PATRON SAINT OF WALES
MARCH 1 IS ST. DAVID'S DAY
The patron saint of Wales, Saint
David, is not simply "veiled" in mystery. "Upholstered" would be a
better fit. In the absence of primary historical records of his life, the sketchy facts
about Dewi Sant, as David is called in Welsh Gaelic, have been embellished with legend,
myth, attribution, and fancy. The resulting composite is more cartoon than realistic
portrait, rendering David attractive to Welsh nationalists, Celtic survivalists, Arthurian
cultists, and anyone looking for a factual figure easily moldable to the noble lost causes
of the ancient Britons.
The life of St.
David of Pembrokeshire in southwest
Wales mirrors the much better known St. Patrick, Irelands patron saint.
Patrick, who lived about 200 years before David, also was probably born in Wales during a
period of the Dark Ages when sainthood in the Welsh Christian Church could be bestowed on
the pious and the devoted. Patrick, of course, has come to represent much of what we think
of as Irish character: a gentle but firm spirituality guiding a simple, transitory life
through challenges of poverty and oppression. Davids lasting image differs only a
little from Patricks Davids severe austerity and his aloofness lack the
happy community associated with the itinerant Patrick. As a result, Patrick can be
welcomed by all Irish Northern Protestants, too as a common cultural icon not
especially politically charged. David, on the other hand, is associated with the
oppression of the Welsh by a succession of invaders: Anglo-Saxons during Davids
lifetime, then Vikings, Normans, and their English progeny.
Like Patrick in
Ireland, David was a traveling evangelist
spreading Christianity among pagan Celtic clans. During the 6th century
— a time when monks without a home parish could become bishops — David
became a national figure who rose from simple monk to become the
principal cleric (bishop or archbishop) of Wales. The factual story of
David’s background and career ends there. The earliest surviving written
history of David’s life dates to the 11th century, 500 years after
David’s death. It is supposed that Viking raids may have destroyed any
earlier biographies during the intervening centuries.
History, like Nature, seems to hate a
vacuum, and so the gaps in the life of David have been filled by apocrypha over the last
1˝ millennia. Over that time, Davids character, his past, and his career have been
created. He has become known as a gentle holy man who followed a simple, even austere,
lifestyle, devoted to a severe vegetarianism that relied on a diet of bread and
watercress. Some say he often lived only on water, a claim sometimes associated with other
Legend has anointed him with royal
heritage, one violent and depraved enough to fit in with monarchies that have ruled
elsewhere on Britain. The bastard issue of Prince Sant of Ceredigion, western Wales, and
Non, local clan chiefs daughter whom Sant raped, David was thus imbued with both
Welsh royalty and clan status. That Non herself later beatified was also to have
been a niece of the greatest of all Celtic (or Briton) kings, Arthur of Camelot, further
bestowed a revered Welsh pedigree on young Dewi.
Much like St. Patrick across the Irish
Sea, David pursued an itinerant missionary life after being educated in a monastery in
southwest Wales. His mission travels took him through Wales, western England, Celtic
Cornwall, and across the Channel to Celtic Brittany. Some legends insist he visited Celtic
Ireland, too, and even made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
After his wanderings, David returned
home and founded a monastery by the tiny River Alun where the cathedral city of St. David
stands today. The monks here practiced a disciplined and simple lifestyle, like David.
Each day they rose very early for prayers followed by working the land, and tending to the
many special crafts of the monastery. Despite their insularity, the monks fed and housed
pilgrims and weary travelers, and fed and clothed needy families in the region.
David was made a saint in the 12th
century, the only
recognized today by the Roman Catholic Church. Although many
Welsh saints lived during the Dark Ages, only Dewi managed to be formally recognized by
the church after the Norman Conquest of Wales. Cynics suggest that the Normans helped win
over the Welsh by officially recognizing their greatestand most palatablehero.
While David represents the Welsh culture, with its distinctive Celtic language and
temperament, Saint David was, after all, less interested in rebellion than in peaceful
Todays Welsh nationalists have
adopted St. David as a symbol of Welsh independence. An old legend tells of Dewi helping a
Welsh army defeat invading Saxons. Unable to readily discern the invaders, David suggested
the Welsh lads wear a leek in their hatbands. They did so, and they drove off the
interlopers. The leek became a Welsh symbol of unified resistance, and it remains so
Without documentation to the contrary
it is difficult to dispute the old legend that David lived at least to be 100 years old,
dying in or around the years 589 or 601. In his final
sermon, David urged his congregation to:
"Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do
the little things that you have seen me do and heard about."
Staying true, being joyful, and
steadfastly doing the "little things" remain Dewi Sants legacy to his
flock, the people of Wales.
Once Pope Callactus II bestowed
official sainthood on him, in 1120AD,
March 1 — Dewi’s birthday — was made his feast day. Subsequently, March
1 has become the National
Day of Wales, like
St. Patricks Day (March 17) is in Ireland,
St. Georges Day (April 23) is in some parts of England, and
St. Andrew's Day (November 30) is throughout Scotland. Many churches
in Wales and some in the USA have been named after him, and some even after his
sainted mother, Saint Non.
Although many believe St. David's
remains were originally interred in Glastonbury Cathedral which he had revitalized
during a mission to western Englandmost Welsh think that Davids ultimate
resting place was, and is, on the site of his own monastery at the current St.
Davids Cathedral. For centuries pilgrims and Welsh nationalists have traveled to St.
Davids, Wales, to visit the cathedral dedicated to Dewi and the little chapel
dedicated to his mother. St. Davids Cathedral, the home church of a saint, is the
single factor qualifying the charming little seaside
ST. DAVID'S, WALES
town of St. David’s as Britain’s smallest
city. It is
also the westernmost city of Wales, and is made triply interesting by
its location on the wonderful 150-mile-long Pembrokeshire Coast Path
National Park, and its close proximity to Pentre Ifan, Wales’s most
important prehistoric cromlech.
St. David’s Cathedral is built in the transitional Norman style on the site of Davids earlier monastery. The ruins of
the 14th century Bishops Palace share the site. An excavation in the cathedral in
late 1996 turned up a cache of ancient bones which many Welsh are convinced are the relics
of St. David.
ST. DAVID'S DAY MARCH 1
Like St. Patricks Day in Ireland, St.
David's Day is a time of great celebration in Wales. All over Wales there are special
meetings and events each March 1. Most important among these is the annual concert in St.
David's Hall, Cardiff. Leeks and daffodils (less provocative than the anti-English leek)
are worn and used as decoration throughout Wales and leek soup is often on the menu. Local
festivities normally include Welsh dances, singing, and verse, known as an
"Eisteddfod", with performances and speeches often in the Welsh language.
HOME AT FIRST has travel programs to two areas
In both regions, visitors can experience the great traditions
and superb scenery of one of the great destinations of Britain.
For more information, see: