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Happy St David’s Day to my Welsh readers!

At left is a detail of a Streetmap (click for a view of the surrounding area)  showing the only church dedicated to the bishop who baptised the patron saint of Wales, St Elvis.  Rory Sutherland of The Spectator tells us that his name in Welsh is Aelfyw (Quote Unquote adds that it is Ailbe of Emly in Gaelic and Albeus in Latin). He came from Munster, in the southwest of Ireland.

St David was born into the royal house of Ceredigion.  He devoted his life to God as a teacher and ascetic.  As an abbot, he founded a monastery in the west of Wales at the Vale of Roses (Glyn Rhosin).  The monastery was the most important Christian site of its day for both religious and intellectual reasons, and David’s reputation was known throughout the Celtic world.

Today’s visitors to the site will find St David’s Cathedral, consecrated in 1131.  The town itself is named after him — St David’s, or in Welsh, Tyddewi.  Dewi is Welsh for David.

Records indicate that St David died on March 1, although the year is less clear — possibly 588 AD.  His final words to the sorrowful monks around his deathbed were as follows:

Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil.

After his death, a cult of sainthood developed, reaching as far as Rome, where Pope Callixtus declared in 1123:

Two pilgrimages to St David’s is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem!

This is how the eponymous cathedral came to be built.

Whilst March 1 in Wales is a national festival, it is not yet an official public holiday, despite strong public support and a petition to then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2007.  However, festivals take place throughout the country, and it is not unusual for children to have time off from school.

When I first moved here, the Welsh still used the leek — St David’s personal emblem — in their celebrations.  Sometime in the mid-1990s, this evolved into the daffodil, which is in season around Britain at that time.  The names for both are rooted in the Welsh word cenhinen (‘leek’), with cenhinen Pedr (‘Peter’s leek’) denoting ‘daffodil’.

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