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St David and Wales

This week, on Monday the first day of March our neighbours, Wales celebrated its national day with the feast of St David. They have been observing this since the twelfth century.

Today the festivities usually involve the singing of traditional songs followed by a Te Bac which is a special tea with bara brith, a famous Welsh fruit bread.  Young girls are encouraged to wear national costume and leeks or daffodils are also in evidence being the national symbols of Wales.  Children take part in traditional Welsh dances, sing Welsh folk songs and recite Welsh poems as well as taking part in school concerts or eisteddfoudea.

All over Wales there are special meetings and events.  Most important among these is the annual concert in St David’s Hall, Cardiff

Celtic Countries

Wales and Ireland have much in common.  Before the expansion of ancient Rome and the Germanic and Slavic tribes, a significant part of Europe was dominated by Celts, leaving as their legacy a number of Celtic cultural traits.  The six territories widely considered Celtic nations are Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.  In each of these, a Celtic language is spoken to some extent.

Wales has had a better system than Ireland of retaining its language bot both nations can lay claim to being home to some of the giants of literature and poetry, think Dylan Thomas and William Butler Yeats.  For each music plays a strong role when it comes to defining cultural identity.  Both are agrarian nations who love and respect the great natural beauty they live in and are very proud of their culture and the traditions associated with same.

At the Olympic Games, Welsh athletes compete for the United Kingdom as part of Great Britain.  However, at many international special events such as the FIFA World Cup and Rugby World Cup Wales has its own national team.

Patrick and David

The life of David mirrors our much better-known patron, St Patrick who lived about one hundred years before David.  Patrick was also probably born in Wales during a period of the Dark Ages when sainthood in the Western Christian Church could be bestowed on the pious and the devoted.

David’s lasting image differs only a little from Patrick’s – his severe austerity and aloofness lack the happy community associated with the traveler, Patrick.   Patrick can be welcomed in Ireland on both sides of the border as a common cultural icon not especially politically charged.  David, on the other hand, is associated with the oppression of the Welsh by a succession of invaders, Anglo-Saxons during David’s lifetime, then Vikings, Normans, and their English descendants.

It is said that during one of the battles with the Saxons it was David who advised the soldiers to wear a leek in their hats so they could be distinguished from the enemy.  Hence the reason why the leek is one of the symbols of Wales

Much like St Patrick, David pursued an itinerant missionary life after being educated in a monastery in South-west Wales.

In the lead-up to Wales’ online celebrations for St David’s day, former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews joked how David was similar to Patrick, only ours had ‘much better marketing”.

St Dafydd

David (or Dafydd in Welsh) is the only Welsh saint to be canonized and it is regrettable that very few details are known about his life.  The oldest written evidence about him comes from Ireland where the Catalogue of the Saints (c. 730) says that they ‘received the Mass from bishop David and the Britons Gillas and Teilo’.

According to a Welsh source, David was educated first at Hen Vynyw, then for ten years as a priest in Scripture studies on an island under Paulinus the scribe.  After this he founded ten monasteries, among them Menevia and Glastonbury, where the monks lived in extreme hardship, imitating the monks of Egypt in their regime of heavy manual labour and study, sustained by a diet of bread, vegetables, and water.

David devoted himself to works of mercy and practiced frequent genuflections and total immersion in cold water as his favourite austerities.  He was nicknamed Aquaticus because he was the leader of reformed monks who drank neither wine nor beer but only water.

He reputedly made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from which he brought back a stone which now sits in an altar at St David’s Cathedral built on the site of his original monastery.  The most famous miracle associated with him took place when he was preaching to a large crowd in Llanddevi Bref.  When people at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood rose up to form a hill, and a white dove, sent by God, nestled on his shoulder.

As David lay dying he advised his followers to do the little things that they had heard and seen him do.  The phrase ‘ Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd’ – “Do the little things in life” – is still a well-known maxim in Wales.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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