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Saint David - Life and Times

Most information about the Saint comes from a biography written by Rhygyfarch in the eleventh century. But because it was written so long after the Saint's death, it isn't likely to be very reliable. So most of what we know about Saint David is really legend; and none the less inspiring for it.

Before his birth

The first legend is set 30 years before David was born when an angel foretold his birth to Saint Patrick.

The legend of his birth

Saint David's father was a prince called Sant, son of the King of Cardigan.

His mother, Non, was the daughter of a local chieftan (and possibly the niece of King Arthur).

But David wasn't the child of a love-filled marriage. He was born after his father either seduced or raped Non, who went on to become a nun.

Non left her family and gave birth by the sea. So intense was the birth that her fingers left marks where she grasped the rocks.

As David was born a bolt of lightning from heaven struck the rock and split it in two.

The legend of his baptism

St David was baptised by Saint Elvis of Munster, and it is said that a blind man was cured by the water used for the baptism.

David's early life, and another legend

David was schooled at the local monastery, Hen Fynyw, which is south of present day Aberaeron, and was taught by Paulinus, a blind monk.

David cured Paulinus of his blindness by making the sign of the cross. Realising that David was a special and holy person, Paulinus sent him off as a missionary to convert the pagan people of Britain.

David the monk

In the course of his travels, David is said to have founded twelve monasteries.

David escapes poison

At one of his monasteries David became so unpopular with his monks for the life of austerity he made them live, that they tried to poison him.

David was warned about this by St Scuthyn, who travelled from Ireland on the back of a sea-monster for the purpose.

David blessed the poisoned bread and ate it; and came to no harm.

Life and teachings

The message of Saint David

David was a great church leader, but not in the sense of a present day bishop or archbishop.

He was a prophet and a teacher, a man of prayer and a miracle worker.

He was the heart of the monastic community he founded in what is now St Davids, and through his direct teaching, and the work of the monks he influenced, he shaped the spirituality of his time and place.

A monk's life

David believed that monks should live simply, and he prescribed a harsh life for his followers.

As well as praying and celebrating mass, the brothers had to work hard.

They rose at dawn for prayer, and then worked in the monastery and the fields around it. David would not allow them to make animals work for them, but made them pull the plough themselves, saying, "every man his own ox."

And while they worked, they continued to pray.

They had a spare diet, too, eating only vegetables and bread, and having only milk and water to drink.

St David himself drank only water, and is sometimes known in Welsh as 'Dewi Ddyfrwr' (David the water drinker).

St David's monks were expected to remain silent, except for prayer or in emergency.

But though it was a hard life, David's holiness and personal charisma were enough to hold the community together in the service of God.

The example of his life, and the modernity of his most famous saying - that we should concentrate on "doing the little things in God's presence with conscientiousness and devotion," make St David a figure with a contemporary appeal.

David's last message

St David is often shown with a dove on his shoulder. The bird symbolises the Holy Spirit which gave David the gift of eloquence as he preached the Good News of Christianity.

But although he was a great preacher, the message by which St David is most remembered is not a flowery piece of preaching but a simple statement about simplicity. It comes from his last sermon...

In his last sermon David told his monks to "do the little things, the small things you've seen me doing".


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