David, or Dewi was Bishop of Menavia in the 6th century, born around 520. The date is uncertain, as was the year of his death: some say 589, others 601, most agree he died March 1st, the day in when he is celebrated.
We have to wait until 1090 AD for the definitive biography, Bucchedd Dewi. The account, Life of David, was written by Rhygyfarch, the son of a bishop at St. David’s Cathedral. in Pembrokeshire. Nearby, are ruins of a monastery David built, on the cliffs where he was said to have been born amidst a thunderstorm. His mother was St. Non, daughter of a powerful Welsh Chieftan, who gave the area it’s name. His father was King Sandde, the Powys Prince. Daffyd even had King Arthur for an uncle, elevating the story (as a newborn’s cries), beyond royal bloodline to that of myth and epic.
It’s said Patrick was born in the same area, and “foresaw” David’s birth. The spot contained a holy well with the ability to heal and the aforementioned monastery. recounts his tutelage under St. Paulinus and education in Henfynyw. After work in Synod of Brevi he was appointed as Cambrian primate, then to Archbishop of Wales. He moved the seat of ecclesiastical government from Caerleon back home to Menevia, also known as Mynyw.
Miracles, much like Jesus’ own, where ascribed to David: bringing the dead back to life; restoring the sight of the blind (his teacher, St. Paulinus); manipulating the senses of crowds, in a manner that might inspire Darren Brown. These tales seem to have come from his birth-mountain. At Llanddewi, Brevi, when his audience couldn’t hear him speak, a dove landed upon David’s shoulder, and he rose up above a new hill, so as to be heard by all. A different story has him set a hankie on the ground, rising to a pillar so those at the corner of the crowd can hear him. How fortuitous that St. David’s church has been built in this very place.
Much of his political traction came through being a leading opponent of Pelagianism, the belief original sin didn’t taint our nature. So David believed we couldn’t wilfully choose good or evil without divine aid, and he believed it strongly.
He lived temperance, and self-imposed penance, once standing up to his neck in a cold lake reciting the bible. Ironically, Welsh sailors would later curse their devil, Davy Jones, with one half inspired by the Saint, the other from the biblical Jonah. Perhaps too, because he’s associated with corpse candles, the dim lights warning people of imminent death in the community. David lived more like a monk than a royal-blood, rarely leaving Wales. One day in the Rhos Valley he had a vision, and took two months with him to Jerusalem to convert anti-Christians. This act of fastidiousness earned him consecration as a bishop so they must have been impressed.
He spent his days reading or teaching, consuming simply. He was known as ‘Dewi Dyfrwr’ or ‘the water drinker’. David was also a committed vegetarian, and one might imagine he cared a great deal about animal rights because he refused to let his monks work the lands with animals plowing. From his agrarian identity, this reliance on vegetables and plants, the fame of the leek is thrust upon us. It’s said David, Bishop of Menevia encouraged his people to wear leeks in battle, in hat or in armour, to distinguish them from the enemy. The Welsh for leek is ‘cennin’, while ‘cennin Pedr’ translates as Peter’s leek, the daffodil, national flower of Wales. This may be part of a modern reconstruction of David, chiefly championed by Lloyd George. The flag of St.David mostly languished in obscurity until the 1990s. Interestingly it’s a yellow cross against a black background; another image of the sun and the cross?
In the four hundred years following his death, Vikings and raiders took from David’s shrine at the church and monastery in Pembrokeshire. (In 1284, Edward I’s conquest netted him David’s head and one of his arms)
David’s canonisation came in 1020, and a resurgence in his powers as a symbol. Rhygyfarch’s collected works reached the Normans, who contracted for a cathedral on the site, and in Rome, Pope Callixtus II endorsed this, declaring two pilgrimages to Saint David’s were worth one pilgrimage to Rome. In the 1300s, the Cathedral was joined by The Bishop’s Palace. This was a respite for religious and political power-brokers, high ranking clergy posing as country gentlemen. There, they feasted and entertained in a grand lavish building, including a great hall eighty-two foot long, with fine architecture that impressed even the privileged.