1 March ~ David of Wales

When Scots folk talk of St. David more often than not they mean the patron of Wales, Dewi Sant, rather than King David, Son of Queen Margaret. Dewi Ddyfrwr, David the water drinker, was roughly contemporary with Columba but he lacked a biographer like Adamnan to record his life and works. Rhygyfarch (1057-99) came so much later that his Latin Life of St. David, alleges Professor Bowen, ‘cannot be relied on for a single historical fact’.

Traditionally obligingly furnished the saint with a princely pedigree – son of a Welsh chief named Sant, great-grandson of Cunedda Wledig, the famous prince who led his people south from Scotland to help the Welsh Britons to repel Irish invaders. His mother was Nonnita, also reputedly the daughter of a chief, although another suggestion says that she was a nun raped by the prince.

David was born on the Cardigan coast at a place called Mybyw, Latinised to Menevia, now Henfynw. When he set up a community he chose a place further south on a neck of land, the Vallis Rosina or Valley of the Little Bog. Later, in his honor, it was known as Ty Ddewi, David’s House, and it is now the miniature cathedral city of St. David’s. Later, when Canterbury achived control of the Welsh Church, history was distorted to present David as the first diocesan bishop of sout-west Wales corresponding to St. Dubricius at Llandaf in the south-east. Diocesan or monarchical bishops came to the British Church much latter than David’s time and we should picture the ancient Ty Ddewi as the simple cultic center of a very large number of daughter communities, the ‘family’ or ‘parouchia‘ of the saint. David probably represented a ‘puritan’ element of the early British Church which led to his nickname of ‘Waterman’ and his monastic rules were probably more severe than those imposed in other monasteries.

Bowen has plotted the sites of some two score Dewicills‘ or churches in south-west Wales, a smaller cluster in Gwent and over into Hereford, and several separated foundations in Cornwall, Devon and Brittany, but there is no record of a single ancient foundation honoring David any further north. Only by courtesy, therefore, could he be considered patron of all Wales; and even in the south, saints such as Teilo or Padarn would have equal right to the honor.

In addition to the Scottish link if the saint’s descent from the chieftain, Cunedda Wledig, be accepted, Dr. A.B. Scot suggested that David had been educated at Candida Casa – an attractive possibility but without any obvious historical foundation. In the west of Scotland there are several ancient dedications, introducing forms such as Kildavie (Southend); Weem (Perthshire) has David as patron, and there is a CladhcillDabhi (rock of David’s chapel), a Davie’s fair, a Kildave and a Dundaveie near Aberfeldy. Kippendavie in near dunblane and there are other similar dedications. It is unlikely, however, that these have a connection with the Welsh saint. It has been suggested (by Frank Knight and others) that they derive from St. Dabius, a follower of St. Patrick. Dewi Sant’s emblem is not a leek or a daffodil but is in fact a dove.

E.G. Bowen, Settlements of Celtic Saints in Wales, 1955
A.W. Wade-Evens, Welsh Christian Origins, 1934

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