St. David’s Day

(Today I have a guest post up on Austenesque Reviews about some of the more unknown aspects of Mansfield Park. Come on by!)

Today is St. David’s Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi in Welsh) and it is a hella big deal here in Wales.


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi is quintessentially Welsh. The saint’s mother is purported to have been St. Non (or Nonita), a mystic Christian who was raped by Sanctus, King of Ceredigion. Unlike traditions in other parts of Britain that believed rape was 1) as much the woman’s fault and 2) no pregnancy could result from “real” rape and 3) once deflowered you weren’t all that much of a holy woman any more, in Wales it was understood from the get go that St. Non was innocent of any crime and her piety was unimpaired by the assault. Such was St. Non’s goodness that she is still associated with holy wells in Wales and Cornwall.

During his life St David was famed for his piety, and he became a reknown religious figure for the Celts both in Wales and in abroad. He founded a monastery at Glyn Rhosyn (The Vale of Roses) in what is now modern-day Pembrokeshire. and after St. David’s death (believed to have been on 1 March sometime between 589 and 601) Christians would make pilgrimages to the holy man’s grave. St David was so important that even William the Conqueror came there to pray in 1081. In 1123, Pope Calixtus II decreed that “Two pilgrimages to St Davids is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem”.

In 1115 King Henry I of England authorized the monks to begin building St David’s Cathedral on the site. In 1540, the body of Henry VII’s father, Edmund Tudor, was reburied at St. David’s in front of the high alter of the grand building. Sadly, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan shenanigans meant that his troops essentially destroyed the old cathedral and it had to be rebuilt almost from scratch.

St David was a focal point of Welsh resistance to Norman and English invaders, and there is a tradition he is the one who suggested that the Welsh wear a leek on their helmets to distinguish fried from foe in a battle against the similarly dressed Saxons. The leek is one of Wales’s national symbols to this day because of that. Because the Welsh word for leek is cenhinen and the Welsh word for daffodil is cenhinen pedr, many people began to think the daffodil was the Welsh national flower. This belief became so common that the Welsh simply adopted it, and now the daffodil is as much a symbol of Wales as the red dragon. That’s why you see so many Welsh people transforming into the spring species of amaryllis for St David’s Day and sports matches.

st-davids-day-run daffodils

Furthermore, St David helped the Welsh maintain their cultural identity during their diaspora, much the same way St. Patrick helped the Irish maintain theirs. Welsh communities in London were having St. David’s Day celebrations as far back as the Medieval period, and attempts by the English to squash Welsh pride – including hanging Welshmen effigies and mocking “taffies” – failed. The black flag and yellow cross of St David still flew.

The Welsh still bust out the parades and revelries on 1 March:

st david parade one

st david parade two

st david parade three

St-David dancing

My favorite part of St. David’s Day is that little kids dress up in ‘traditional’ Welsh costumes for school:

st davids class

That means my younger two daughters, Buttercup and Bubbles, will be adorned in this manner today. Older kids, like my daughter Blossom, will wear Welsh rugby apparel or shirts with Welsh slogans upon them. Needless to say, I will be taking a vast number of pictures of my children’s cuteness!


2 thoughts on “St. David’s Day

  1. My Welsh grandfather always “taught me” that Saint Patrick was born in Wales, thus Welsh. He never mentioned Saint David was born in Ireland. Great post, Kyra.

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