In the midst of the invasions of the pagan Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries, one of the parts of Britain that continued in the ways of Christianity was the land that lay west of the Wye River – Cambria (Cymru, or Wales). In this stronghold of the old Britons, the faith sprung from the Christians of Roman Britain continued to flourish.
To the family of one Sanctus in Menevia there was born a son David (Cymric Dewi, “the beloved”). Little is known of his early life, but while fairly young he founded a monastery near Menevia and became its abbot. He was later elected bishop of Menevia. His strongest desire was to study and to meditate in the quiet of his monastery, but he was virtually dragged to a synod of bishops at Brefi that had been called to combat the Pelagian heresy. Once there, David proved to be so eloquent and learned in defense of the orthodox faith that Archbishop Dubricius chose him as his own successor as primate of the churches in Wales. In time, David founded eleven other monasteries in Wales, and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
He is said to have been strict in the governing of his own monastery at Menevia, yet loving in his treatment and correction of wrongdoers. One of his nicknames, Aquaticus, “the Waterman”, may indicate that he allowed the monks in his care to drink only water at meals instead of the customary wine or mead.
A scholar, a competent adminstrator, and a man of moderation, David filled the offices he held with distinction. He became a leader and guardian of the Christian faith in Wales. Eventually he moved the archiepiscopal seat to Menevia, which is still an episcopal city, now called Ty-Dewi (the House of David). Toward the end of his life he had several Irish saints as his pupils at Menevia.
As is clear from history and from legend – and many legends surround his life – David is clearly the foremost saint of Wales. From at least the twelfth century he has been revered and loved as the patron saint of Wales, and since the sixth century as a foremost Christian priest and a courageous leader.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty God, you called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may with him receive our heavenly reward; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The icon of Saint David is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.
The propers for the commemoration of David, Bishop of Menevia, are found at the Lectionary page website.