The History Behind Saint David’s Day (Dydd Dewi Sant)

The 1st March every year is a day of celebration all across Wales, as up and down the country people celebrate St David’s Day (Dydd Dewi Sant). With yellow daffodils, red Welsh rugby shirts and green leeks worn by many, the day celebrates the life and the legend of Saint David (Dewi Sant).

Who Was Saint David?

Saint David was a Bishop in Wales, who was awarded Sainthood after performing a number of miracles in his life. He was born in the sixth century (although his date of birth is contested), dying on March 1st, 589 AD at an old age. He was canonised by Pope Callixtus in the 1120 AD, and at some point after this point, people in Wales began to celebrate “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus”, or “Saint David’s Day”, with a variety of celebrations and activities all over the country.

Saint David was celebrated not only for his miracles (Click the link to learn about Saint David’s Miracles), but also for his work creating religious centres in places like Glastonbury and Croyland, and even took a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He is notable in the fact that he is the only patron Saint in Britain who is actually from the country he is the patron saint of (neither Saint George, Saint Andrew nor Saint Patrick were from England, Scotland or Ireland, respectively).

It was here that David was made an Arch Bishop, and continued his work with the church. His life have evolved into legend over the years, with most of what we know about him coming from 12th century poets, which does lead to questions about the authenticity of his actions.

Dewi Sant was said to have performed many miracles during his life, which led to his ascendance to sainthood. Most of the stories about him came from a hagiography written by Rhygyfarch in the late 11th century, which were said to have been based on documents from the cathedrals archives, although that cannot be confirmed.

Many of the miracles performed by Saint David are talked about to this day, but one of them sticks out above the rest. Saint David was giving a sermon to a large crowd, called the “Synod of Brefi”, in the small town of Llandewi Brefi (of Little Britain fame). The senior Bishop of the town invited David to attend, to which the Welshman was reluctant.

However, eventual the Bishop, who is Saint Dubricius, convinced David to attend the sermon, which is where the miracle occurred. As Saint David tried to converse with everybody in the town, he was soon drowned out by their cries. With the people unable to hear him, he prayed to the lord before the ground around him rose up, creating a small hill that made sure everybody could see and hear him.

A white dove then landed on the shoulder of Saint David (which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, and became synonymous with David), as he gave her sermon to the people who had just witnessed his miracle. Other miracles that were attributed to St David include curing a blind man’s sight, and healing sick children.

It is said that he denounced Pelagianism (rejecting the idea that original sin is not part of humanity, and denouncing the idea of free will), and spoke so strongly and eloquently that Dubricius immediately retired, and Saint David was declared Archbishop, by popular demand.

When Is Saint David’s Day?

Saint David’s Day is celebrated in Wales on March 1st every year.

Saint David’s death was said to have been on March 1st, which is why we celebrate Saint David’s day on March the 1st each year. However, it is unknown the year that he died, although scholars most notably offer up either 589 or 601 as possible years of his demise.

After 1120 AD, the people of Wales began to celebrate Saint David’s Day every year. Traditions include baking (usually welsh cakes), celebrating with Welsh poetry and music, attending marches and parades across the country, and wearing traditional Welsh dress (for girls, a plaid dress and shawl paired with a traditional bonnet, and for boys, a rugby shirt or “dai cap”).

Schools across the nation put on their annual Eisteddfod – a festival celebrating the arts of Wales, most notably in music and poetry. Competitions are done between the children, with weeks of the school year taking up with planning this yearly tradition (the National Eisteddfod takes place in the first week of August).

Daffodils and Leeks are a key part of the day, owing to their status as some of the national symbols of Wales. They are more common than the dragon on Saint Davids day, with the Flag of Saint David more commonly flown on March 1st.

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