Feast Day: March 1st
St. David is patron saint of Wales with over 50 churches dedicated to him in the south of the country, including the monastery he founded at Menevia, today simply called St. David’s. Even though part of his life is recorded as legendary, he clearly existed and appears to have been a strong preacher, teacher, and missionary. The legendary part of his biography seems largely to have been produced to justify the independence of the Welsh Church from that of England.
David was said to have been the son of a Welsh prince, Sandde, and a woman, Non. He was claimed to have been born on a cliff top in Pembrokeshire in a violent storm. The site was later marked by the ancient and ruined Chapel of St. Non. An angel is said to have foretold the saint’s birth to St. Patrick thirty years earlier. His father dreamed that David would receive three gifts—as stag, a fish, and a swarm of bees. The stag represented his son’s power over the tempter serpent, the fish his abstinence, and honey from the bees his holiness. For ten years, David studied scripture under the venerable St. Paulinus of Wales, who (according to legend) the youthful David cured of blindness brought on by “excessive weeping through prayer.”
David later traveled widely across the Celtic world, including Brittany in northern France, establishing 12 monasteries. He instituted an exceptionally austere regime for his monks, based on the practices of the monks in the Egyptian desert. All were expected to engage in diligent study of Scripture; manual labor; speech was largely forbidden; personal possessions were not allowed; no meat was to be eaten (hence David’s adoption as the patron saint of vegetarians); and only water was to be drunk. David was nicknamed “Aquaticus” (‘water drinker’) and was claimed to immerse himself regularly in freezing water up to his neck as an aid to contemplation.
David, still no more than a minor abbot, was persuaded to attend a synod called to condemn Pelagianism at the central Welsh town of Llanddewi Brefi. Here the most famous miracle associated with him occurred. Addressing a crowd that could neither hear nor see him well, the ground on which David stood is said to have spontaneously risen into the air so that he towered over the assembled masses. A white dove, symbol of divine grace, then settled on his shoulder. St. Dubric, the senior Welsh bishop present, was so struck by this that he resigned to live as a hermit, insisting David be appointed in his place.
David is supposed to have ruled the monastery in Menevia until he was a very old man. He is reputed to have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, where the patriarch himself is said to have appointed David an archbishop. Geoffrey of Monmouth, attributes these last words of David’s:
“Be joyful, brothers and sisters. Keep the faith and do the little things you have seen and heard with me.”
David was buried at St. David’s, though his relics were looted in Viking raids in the 9th century.
Burns, Paul. “Butler’s Saint for the Day.” Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Ghezzi, Bert. “Voices of the Saints.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.