Saints of the Day – David of Wales

stained glass window Saint David of Wales, Great Saint Mary's church, Cambridge, England; swiped with permission from the flickr account of Father Lawrence Lew, OPArticle

(also known as Dewi)

5th or 6th century. There is no certainty about the date though we know that Saint David was a real personage, son of King Sant, a prince of Cardigan in far western Wales. All the information we have about him is based on the unreliable 11th century biography written by Rhygyfarch, the son of Bishop Sulien of Saint David’s. Rhygyfarch’s main purpose was to uphold the claim of the Welsh bishopric to be independent of Canterbury, so little reliance can be placed on the document.

David, who may have been born at Henfynw in Cardigan, lived during the golden age of Celtic Christianity when saints were plentiful, many of them of noble rank–kings, princes, and chieftain–who lived the monastic life, built oratories and churches, and preached the Gospel.

Saint Cadoc founded the great monastery of Llancarfan. Saint Illtyd turned from the life of a soldier to that of a mystic and established the abbey of Llantwit, where tradition links his name to that of Sir Galahad. But greatest among them was David, cousin of Cadoc and pupil of Illtyd, who was educated in the White House of Carmarathen and who founded the monastery of Menevia in the place that now bears his name.

According to his biography, David became a priest, studied under Saint Paulinus, the disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre, on an unidentified island for several years. He then engaged in missionary activities, founded 12 monasteries from Croyland to Pembrokeshire, the last of which, at Mynyw (Menevia) in southwestern Wales, was known for the extreme asceticism of its rule, which was based on that of the Egyptian monks.

Here in this lovely and lonely outpost he gathered his followers. The Rule was strict, with but one daily meal, frequent fasts, and hours of unbroken silence. Their days were filled with hard manual labor and no plough was permitted in the work of the fields. “Every man his own ox,” said Saint David. Nor did David exempt himself from the same rigorous discipline: he drank nothing but water and so came to be known as David the Waterman; and long after vespers, when the last of his monks had retired to bed, he prayed on alone through the night.

We are told that he was of a lovable and happy disposition, and an attractive and persuasive preacher. It was perhaps his mother, the saintly Non, who had nurtured him carefully in the Christian faith, that he owed so many of his own fine qualities. It was not surprising, therefore, that when the time came for the appointment of a new archbishop of Wales the choice fell upon him.

At Brevi, in Cardiganshire, a great synod had been convened about 550, attended by a thousand members, but David, who kept aloof from temporal concerns, remained in his retreat at Menevia. The synod, however, insisted on sending for him. So great was the crowd and so intense the excitement that the voice of the aged and retiring archbishop Saint Dubricius could hardly be heard when he named David as his successor. David, who at first refused, came forward reluctantly, but when he spoke his voice was like a silver trumpet, and all could hear and were deeply moved; and in that hour of his succession a white dove was seen to settle upon his shoulders as if it were a sign of God’s grace and blessing.

Without any facts to support the event, it is said that David was consecrated archbishop by the patriarch of Jerusalem while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But he loved Menevia and could not bring himself to leave it for Caerleon, the seat of the archbishopric, which he transferred to his own monastery by the wild headlands of the western sea, and which to this day is known by his name and remains a place of pilgrimage.

Again according to unsubstantiated legend, David convened a council, called the Synod of Victory, because it marked the final demise of Pelagianism, ratified the edicts of Brevi, and drew up regulations for the British Church.

“He opened,” we are told, “many fountains in dry places, and across the centuries his words spoken in the hour of death still reach us: “Brothers and sisters, be joyful and keep your faith.”

He died at Menevia and his cultus was reputedly approved by Pope Callistus II about 1120. Even his birth and death dates are uncertain, ranging from c. 454 to 520 for the former and from 560 to 601 for the latter (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Gill, Wade- Evans).

In art, Saint David is a Celtic bishop with long hair and a beard, and a dove perched on his shoulder. He may be shown preaching on a hill, or holding his cathedral. He is the patron saint of Wales and especially venerated in Pembrokeshire (Roeder). No one seems to have a satisfactory explanation regarding the association of leeks with Saint David’s Day as in Shakespeare’s Henry V, IV, 1 (Attwater).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 May 2020. Web. 2 June 2020. <>