TODAY, Wednesday, March 1, is Saint David’s Day or Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant, celebrating Wales’ patron saint.

But who is Saint David and why do we celebrate him? Here we take a look at the life of the Pembrokeshire saint.

Who is Saint David?

Rhyl Journal: St David depicted in stained glass. Picture: Wolfgang Sauber via Wikimedia CommonsSt David depicted in stained glass. Picture: Wolfgang Sauber via Wikimedia Commons

Not much is actually known about Saint David other than what we have in a biography written around 1090 by Rhygyfarch, son of the bishop of St David’s.

He states that David was born on a cliff top near Capel Non on the south-west coast of Wales during a fierce storm between 462 and 512AD, depending on the source. David was born to Sandde, prince of Powys, and Non, daughter of a chieftain of Menevia, which is now St David’s. He is the grandson of King Ceredig, founder of Ceredigion.

In medieval times, it was believed that the legendary King Arthur was David’s uncle.

We do know that David grew up to be a priest. He was educated at the Hen Fynyw monastery under St. Paulinus. He was said to have performed a number of miracles during his lifetime, including restoring his mentor’s sight.

Another reported miracle he performed was in Llandewi Brefi when he was preaching to a large crowd. A number of people were unable to hear him and complained and it is said that the ground he was standing on rose to form a hill and a white dove settled on his shoulder.

He is also said to have told his soldiers to wear leeks in their hats during a battle against the Saxons to allow them to be distinguished from their enemies.

Rhyl Journal: St David's Cathedral is located on the site of Saint David's first monastery.St David's Cathedral is located on the site of Saint David's first monastery.

David was a vegetarian who only ate bread, herbs and vegetables and would only drink water. He was also known to stand up to his neck in a lake of cold water, reciting scripture as penance and it is believed that milestones in his life were marked by springs of water.


He became a missionary, travelling across Wales and the rest of Britain. He also went further afield, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he would be consecrated as a bishop. He would bring back a stone from this pilgrimage, which sits in an altar in St David’s Cathedral.

He founded 12 monasteries including Glastonbury and Menevia (St David’s) which is where he took his bishop’s seat. David was named Archbishop of Wales at the Synod of Brevi in Cardiganshire in 550. He also founded churches in Brittany.

In his monasteries, he and his monks would plough fields by hand rather than using oxen.

He died on March 1, 589AD.

What is St David’s legacy?

Rhyl Journal: Stained glass picture of Saint David at Castell Coch designed by William BurgesStained glass picture of Saint David at Castell Coch designed by William Burges

Where he was born is marked by the ruins of a tiny ancient chapel close to a holy well which is said to have healing powers. David’s remains were said to have been buried in St David’s Cathedral, with bones uncovered in 1996 believed to be those of the saint.

Despite his death in 589AD, his influence was seen to spread across the UK and into Europe. He wasn’t made a saint until 1120, when he was canonised by Pope Callixtus II and he has been celebrated as the patron saint of Wales since the 12th century, with his feast date falling on the date of his death.

His last words to his followers were said in a sermon the Sunday before his death which were: “Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.” Following this, the phrase “Do the little things in life,” or “Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd” is a well-known adage in Wales.

Many religious followers made pilgrimages to St David’s in the centuries following his death, with a popular route established between Wexford and the UK’s now smallest city. This link is currently being explored further by Ancient Connections.

With the popularity of the pilgrimages, the pope went on to declare that two pilgrimages to St David’s would equal one to Rome, with three the equivalent to one pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The leek became a national symbol for Wales reportedly due to the Saxon battle mentioned earlier but it is also mentioned that it could have been because he was reported to have only eaten leeks. There are 50 churches in Wales that bear the name of St David.

Today, on Saint David’s Day, many schools actively celebrate, with their own Eistedfodd’s to celebrate Wales and the wearing of traditional Welsh outfits and rugby shirts as well as daffodils and leeks is done by children and adults alike with Welsh origins across the world. There are also Saint David’s Day concerts held across Wales.