Who was St David? What the patron saint of Wales did and how to say ‘happy St David’s Day’ in Welsh today

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Wales unites every year on 1 March to celebrate St David, the nation’s patron saint.

The commemorations mark the reputed date of his death, which this year falls on a Tuesday.

As has become tradition in recent years, Google is celebrating St David today with a commemorative Doodle.

But who actually was the saint, and why is he so venerated? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who was St David?

Like many early Christian saints, indisputable historical facts about David are thin on the ground, with much of his story based on the Buchedd Dewi (Life of David) written by the scholar Rhigyfarch at the end of the 11th century.

He is thought to have been born around 500 AD in Pembrokeshire on the Welsh west coast. David’s reputed mother Non was also a saint, and he was trained as a priest under the tutelage of St Paulinus.

Various miracles are attributed to him, including restoring the sight of his teacher and, most famously, creating an entirely new hill (now the village of Llanddewi Brefi) during an outdoor sermon.

Saint David became a renowned missionary in Wales and beyond, and is credited with founding monasteries in his homeland, the south-west of England (including Glastonbury) and Brittany.

Parades are traditionally held across Wales on St David’s Day (Photo: Getty Images)

He was named the Archbishop of Wales at the Synod of Brefi church council in 550, but remained in the settlement of Menevia – later named St Davids in his honor – where he had set up a large monastery which is now St David’s Cathedral.

We don’t know exactly when he died, but 1 March became the accepted date, with the year most commonly estimated at 589AD.

His body was buried at St David’s Cathedral, which became a prestigious site of pilgrimage in the middle ages, its stature enhanced by a visit from William Conqueror several years before Rhigyfarch wrote his Life.

Indeed in 1123 Pope Calixtus II decreed that two pilgrimages to St Davids was the equivalent of one to Rome, with three trips to west Wales counting as one to Jerusalem.

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How to say ‘happy St David’s Day’ in Welsh

St David’s Day offers you a golden opportunity to greet any friends, family and colleagues from Wales in their native tongue.

In the Welsh language, “Happy St David’s Day” translates as “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus”.

If Welsh pronunciation isn’t your strong point, a rough phonetic translation of the phrase would be: “deethe goil Dewi hapeece”.

How is St David’s Day celebrated?

St David’s Day has been celebrated regularly since he was canonized by Pope Callixtus II in the 12th century, with various customs developing.

These include the wearing of daffodils and leeks – two of the most recognizable symbols of Wales – and eating traditional dishes such as Welsh rarebit.

St David’s Day is not a public holiday, but in recent times towns have held parades of increasing scale, with major events in Cardiff and Swansea.

Google has made a tradition of celebrating St David’s Day, with some of the commemorative Doodles it releases on the date impressively elaborate.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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