St. Dewi, Bishop of Mynyw
(AD 487-AD 589)
(Welsh: Dewydd; Latin: Davidus; English: David)
The life-story and legends of St.
David are largely based on his biography written by one Rhygyfarch in the
late 11th century. He is generally accepted as having been the son of a
lady of noble Irish birth living in Dyfed. Lady
Non by name, she had taken on a religious life, joining the
convent at Ty Gwyn near Whitesands Bay. However, her beauty brought her to
the attention of Sandde, a prince of the
adjoining Kingdom of Ceredigion, while he was travelling nearby. His
advances were, of course, vehemently rejected but the Royal lord would not
take no for an answer and forced his passions upon the unfortunate Non.
The poor girl fell pregnant with the future St. David: a man of such
holiness that even from the womb he, apparently, performed miracles. For
an old story tells how, during her pregnancy, Non entered a certain church
to listen the preaching of the local priest - he is said to have been St.
Gildas but he was somewhat younger than David - and immediately
the man was struck dumb. Because her child was soon to excel all religious
teachers, the cleric found himself unable to continue whilst in the great
He was eventually born in the middle of a violent storm at Porth Coch Bach, on the
coast just south of Mynyw (St.
Davids), where a ruined chapel still marks the very spot.
Traditionally, this was around AD 462, though recent work by Carney
suggests AD 487 to be a more likely date. Non named her son, Dewidd,
but he was commonly called Dewi from the local Dyfed pronunciation. David
is an English version taken from the Latin, Davidus. He was brought up, by
his mother, in Henfeynyw (Vetus Rubus) near Aberaeron and, at a
young age, was baptised by his maternal cousin, St. Eilfyw. David may have
been educated by St. Colman of Dromore, but this seems unlikely.
David was greatly attracted to the Welsh Church and, when he became a man,
he was soon ordained a priest. He travelled to the island of Wincdi-Lantquendi
(possibly Whitland) in order to study under St. Paulinus of Wales.
He stayed there for at least ten years, but is also said to have studied
under St. Illtud at Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit
Major) around this time. David was a star pupil and even cured Paulinus of
Our saint then began to travel the country, evangelising as he went. He is
said to have founded twelve monasteries in Southern Wales, though many of
these are erroneous later claimants. PC Bartrum suggests that possible
genuine foundations may have included Glasgwm (Elfael), Colfa (Elfael),
Llangyfelach (Gwyr), Llanarthne (Ystrad Tywi) and Betws (Ystrad Tywi). He
also visited the court of King Proprius of Ergyng - probably King Peibio
Clafrog - and cured his blindness too.
Eventually, David returned to Henfeynyw where he met up with his relation,
Bishop Gwestlan. The two were neighbours and companions for some time,
before the Welsh patron moved on to nearby Rhoson Uchaf (Rosina Vallis)
near Mynyw (St. Davids). He was accompanied by a number of disciples,
including Aeddan, Teilo
and Ysfael, and together they founded the monastery of Mynyw (St. Davids).
An Irish chieftain, named Bwya, living at nearby Castell Penlan, was not
best pleased at this invasion of monks and plotted to drive them out. His
wife sent her maidservants to bathe naked in the River Alun and tempt
David and his followers, but the clerics were far from impressed.
Misfortune soon befell the Irish couple and David was able to settle down
without further harassment.
By this time, David's fame as a spiritual leader was becoming widespread
throughout Britain. He became known as 'the Waterman' - David Aquaticus (Dewi
Dyfyrwr) - because he encouraged his followers to live drink and bathe in
cold water. He attracted pupils from many walks of life, including retired
monarchs like St. Constantine of
Dumnonia. From Mynyw (St. Davids), they spread the Word of God,
travelling across the country and especially to Ireland. St. Aeddan
crossed the Irish Sea and founded the monastery of Ferns from where a
premonition warned him that David was about to be poisoned. He sent his
companion, Ysgolan, to save the great saint from assassination; which he
did. Other Irish visitors included Bishop Barre to whom David lent a
miraculous horse which carried him home across the sea!
David then decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with SS. Teilo
and Padarn. It is said that they were there consecrated bishops by the
patriarch. Upon his return to Wales, in AD 545, David was persuaded by SS.
Deiniol, Bishop of Bangor Fawr, and Dyfrig,
Bishop of Ergyng (and said to be Archbishop of Wales) to attend the Synod
of Llandewi Brefi, which had been convened to discuss disipline within the
church and to stamp out the Pelagian Heresy. St. Paulinus of Wales
had recommended his old pupil, since his six-foot stature made him ideal
for addressing the vast crowds. The story goes that David spoke so
eloquently before his peers that a hill miraculously raised up beneath
him. Dyfrig resigned his Archiepiscopate in David's favour; and he moved
the cathedral from Caerleon
to his own foundation at Mynyw (St. Davids). The elderly St. Gildas is
said to have disputed the appointment, but SS. Cadog
and Finnian of Clonard eventually ruled in favour of David. In fact, it is unlikely
that an archiepiscopal see existed in Wales at this time, but David's
monastery does seem to have eclipsed the influence of the more easterly
church. A second synod, of Victoria, was summoned some years later, in AD
569, to re-assert the anti-Pelagian decrees agreed at Brefi.
It was possibly around this period that David is said to have visited Glastonbury
in Somerset. He had learnt of the abbey's
great sanctity and wished to dedicate the building. However, upon his
arrival, he apparently had a dream in which the Lord appeared to him and
declared that he had already dedicated the church in honour of his mother,
St. Mary. So, David decided instead to extend the so-called 'Old Church'
erected by St. Joseph of Arimathea and
constructed a more extensive building to the east.
David died at Mynyw (St. Davids) on Tuesday 1st March AD 589 and was
buried in his cathedral, where his relics are still venerated to this day.
He must have been extremely old.