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Holy Hierarch David, Patron-Saint of Wales

Holy Hierarch David, Patron-Saint of Wales

Commemorated: March 1/14

St David (in Welsh: "Dewi Sant"), Archbishop of Menevia (in Welsh: "Mynyw"), one of the greatest and most beloved saints of Wales, was born in about 500. The surviving version of his Life is one of the best medieval literary monuments describing the life of early Celtic monasteries. From time immemorial David, a great wonderworker, has been venerated as the patron-saint of Wales. 

His mother was St Nonna who descended from a royal house in Wales. David already worked miracles in his mother's womb. Once pregnant, Nonna entered the church to listen to a sermon. But the priest lost his speech for a while. This was understood as a sign that the infant in Nonna's womb was to surpass all teachers of faith in Wales.

From childhood, David excelled in piety and love for the church. He became a monk and a priest when still very young. He was trained in the monastic life in various monasteries of Wales. It should be said that a relatively developed Church and monastic life already existed in Wales by the time of David, but it was he whom the Lord chose as the greatest saint of this nation, builder of monasteries and founder of one main spiritual centre. David filled the Welsh land with the extraordinary spirit of holiness, providing the country with great spiritual potential.

Well prepared in the divine knowledge and monastic rule, David set off travelling all over the country, establishing monasteries and churches. In the south of Wales he healed a ruler from blindness.

In the southwestern part of the country  (Pembrokeshire), David founded his best-known monastery in Mynyw (the latinized form - Menevia), now this small pretty city is called St Davids after him. David became its abbot. The brethren followed a very strict rule. The disciples of David read Lives of the desert fathers of Egypt and tried to follow them in their everyday monastic life. Menevia Monastery, where manual labour and education flourished, became a seedbed of saints. Strict discipline under the direction of the abbot was observed; the food of the brethren was simple and consisted of bread, herbs and water. Alcohol was excluded, and fish was given only in extreme cases. 

The abbot led the same simple life as his monks and worked as hard as any of them. The community members wore simple clothes and their belongings were held in common. Voluntary poverty and the refusal of all possessions were among the main rules of the monastery. The brethren attended long church services. David himself used to retreat to the river to read the whole Psalter, standing in cold river water even in winter (that was a common custom among the Celtic saints). Any conversations, except for very necessary ones, were forbidden. Ascetic preparation of the mind and heart in inner prayer was practised by monks. The community distributed food to the needy, widows, the sick, the disabled, and guests.

David participated in the Church Council at Llanddewi Brefi  in Wales  in c.545. The Council condemned the heresy of Pelagianism and discussed Church discipline. David spoke so eloquently and was so inspired from above at the Council that a hill miraculously rose up under him and a white dove descended onto his shoulder. At this meeting David was elected Archbishop of Menevia and the whole Welsh Church, and his monastery was declared the spiritual capital of the country. However, one biographer of David claimed that he was raised to the rank of Archbishop by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Holy Land!

David staunchly stood for purity of the Church from heresies, and he became known as "the enemy of Monothelites". Many contemporary saints were his friends. David restored monastic life in Glastonbury in Somerset.

The glory of the wonderful saint of God - David - spread all over Britain. Once he gave a traveller a horse, which took him across the sea. David and his disciples preached the Gospel very zealously. Many rulers, hearing David's sermons, gave away their riches to the poor and in some cases left their thrones and took up monasticism. David used to say: "Be joyful, brothers and sisters, keep the holy faith and do little good works…  Do the same little deeds that I did: you yourselves saw them and heard of them. I am following the path which our fathers walked before us."

The Holy Hierarch reposed on March 1, 589. His veneration grew, spreading from south Wales throughout the whole country, and from there to Ireland, Cornwall, western England and Brittany. David himself made frequent trips to Cornwall, Brittany and other regions where he built monasteries. For every Welshman, David is an embodiment of Wales.

The relics of David have survived and are in the magnificent St Davids Cathedral to this day. This Cathedral stands on the site of the original monastery, and St Davids is considered to be the smallest city in the UK. David's monastery existed for many centuries, though in the 10th and 11th centuries it was plundered by the Vikings. His relics were greatly venerated by the faithful till the Reformation (it was said that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome), when his splendid shrine was desecrated.

Hundreds of churches are dedicated to St David across Wales, western England and other countries (Australia, the USA). David is usually depicted on icons as a bishop with a dove on his shoulder, standing on a height (elevation). March 1, the feast-day of David, is the national holiday of Wales. On this day Welsh people wear a daffodil — an emblem of the saint — in their buttonholes. This is due to the similarity between the flower's name and the saint's name (in Welsh a daffodil is a "dafid").

The saint’s shrine was restored through efforts of dean of St Davids Cathedral in 2012 and solemnly installed at the Trinity Chapel for veneration. The niches at the foot of the shrine contain reliquaries with relics of St David and St Justinian of Ramsey Island (“Ynys Dewi”, that is, “David’s Island”, in Welsh), his disciple. Three icons at the front of the shrine depict Sts Patrick, David and Apostle Andrew; at the rear of the shrine there are icons of Sts Nonna and Justinian. 

(c) Dmitry Lapa

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