Welsh Week, St David's Day and Eisteddfod
St David of Wales or ‘Dewi Sant’ (in Welsh), was a saint of the Celtic Church. It is thought that he was born near the present town of St David’s. The ruins of a small chapel dedicated to his mother Non may be seen near St. David’s Cathedral.
An account of Dewi’s life was written towards the end of the 11th century by Rhigyfarch, a monk. Following Dewi’s education, he went on a pilgrimage through parts of South Wales and the West of England, where he founded important religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He settled in ‘Glyn Rhosyn’ (St David’s) after defeating an Irish chieftain named Boia. A very detailed account is given of the strict ascetic life required in the community which he established there. Dewi went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was consecrated archbishop.
Many miracles were attributed to Dewi Sant. One miracle often recounted is that, once, when Dewi was preaching to a crowd at Llanddewi Brefi, those on the outer edges could not hear, so he spread a handkerchief on the ground, and stood on it to preach, and the ground rose up beneath him, and all could hear.
He was buried in what today is St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. The Cathedral became popular as a place of pilgrimage, especially after Dewi had been officially recognised as a saint of the Catholic Church by Pope Callixtus in 1120.
1st March is the date given by Rhigyfarch for the death of Dewi Sant. It was celebrated as a religious festival up until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. In the 18th century it became a national festival among the Welsh, and continues as such to this day.
The celebration usually means singing and eating. St. David’s Day meetings in Wales are not the boisterous celebrations that accompany St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. The custom is to celebrate with traditional songs and poems in a Welsh evening called ‘Noson Lawen’. Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, is flown as a flag or worn as a pin or pendant, and either leeks or daffodils are worn, both of which are national emblems of Wales.
The leek became famous in Wales after an ancient poet (Taliesin) wrote enthusiastically about its virtues, and because a (probably fictional) legend exists that a Welsh army once attached leek to their helmets to help identify each other in a battle against Saxons. The status of the leek as an emblem is so strong that it even features on one pound coins that represent Wales. Daffodils became national emblems in the early 20th century, when Welsh born Prime Minister David Lloyd George wore daffodils on St David’s Day.
Children in schools, mainly girls, will dress up in traditional Welsh national costume. A more modern tradition has become the wearing of Welsh rugby shirts.