« Dativus, celebrated senator David, Welsh saint Decius, emperor »

David, Welsh saint

David (5), St. (Degui; Welsh, Dewi), the most eminent Welsh saint.

His Period.—The Annales Cambriae, our earliest authority for his existence, date his death a.d. 601; and one reading, which the Monumenta only gives in brackets, under a.d. 458, is: "St. Dewi nascitur anno tricesimo post discessum Patricii de Menevia" (M. H. B. 830, 831). Geoffrey of Monmouth dates his death a.d. 542, and William of Malmesbury a.d. 546. Ussher argues that he died a.d. 544, at the age of 82 (Brit. Eccl. Ant. Works, 1847; vi. 43, 44, Chron. Index, ad ann. 544); but Rice Rees, who has followed him in his computations, places his birth 20 years later, and fixes a.d. 566 as the last date possible for his death. The a.d. 601 of the Ann. Camb. is the date adopted by Haddan and Stubbs (Councils, i. 121, 143, 148), who remark that David would thus come into view just as the history of Wales emerges from the darkness that conceals it for a century after the departure of the Romans.

A résumé of authorities for his Life is given by Jones and Freeman (Hist. of St. David's, 240), and a full and careful list of all known materials, manuscript and printed, by Hardy (Descr. Catal. i. 766).

The Story of his Life.—The asserted facts of St. David's life, omitting such as are clearly legendary, meet with various degrees of credence from authors of repute. Rees, in his Essay on Welsh Saints, while rejecting several circumstances as manifestly fabulous or incredible, such as his going to Jerusalem to be consecrated, is disposed to accept enough to make a biographical narrative.

His father was (in medieval Latin) Xantus or Sanctus, prince of Keretica—i.e. modern Cardiganshire. David is said to have been educated first under St. Iltutus in his college (afterwards called from him Llanilltyd Fawr, or Lanwit Major), and subsequently in the college of Paulinus (a pupil of Germanus and one of the great teachers of the age), at Tygwyn ar Dâf (Rees, Welsh Saints, 178), or at Whitland in Carmarthenshire (Jones and Freeman); and here he spent ten years in the study of Holy Scripture. In course of time David became head of a society of his own, founding or restoring a monastery or college at a spot which Giraldus calls Vallis Rosina (derived, as is generally supposed, from a confusion between Rhos, a swamp, and Rhosyn, a rose), near Hen-Meneu, and this institution was subsequently named, out of respect to his 248memory, Ty Dewi, House of David, or St. David's. In those days, remarks Rees, abbats of monasteries were looked upon in their own neighbourhoods as bishops, and were styled such, while it is probable that they also exercised chorepiscopal rights in their societies (Welsh Saints, 182, 266; cf. Haddan and Stubbs, i. 142, 143). Such dignity David enjoyed before his elevation to the archbishopric of the Cambrian church. It was the Pelagian controversy that occasioned his advancement. To pronounce upon the great heresy then troubling the church, archbp. Dubricius convened a synod at Brefi, and David, whose eloquence put the troublers to confusion, made such an impression that the synod at once elected him archbp. of Caerleon and primate of the Cambrian church, Dubricius himself resigning in his favour. The locality of this synod, which holds a marked place in Welsh ecclesiastical traditions, was on the banks of the Brefi, a tributary of the Teifi; Llanddewi Brefi it was afterwards called, from the dedication of its church to St. David. It is 8 miles from Lampeter, and from recent archaeological discoveries has been identified with an important Roman station, the Loventium of the itineraries (Lewis, Top. Dict. of Wales; cf. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, i. 117). The Pelagian heresy, however, still survived, and the new archbishop convened another synod, the issue of which was so decided as to gain it the name of the Synod of Victory. It is entered in the Annales Cambriae, "Synodus Victoriae apud Britones congregatur," under a.d. 569, but not with full confidence (M. H. B. 831). It is also mentioned, without a date, in the Annales Menevenses (Wharton, Angl. Sac. ii. 648). After residing for a while at Caerleon on Usk, where the seat of the primate was then established, David, by permission of king Arthur, removed to Menevia, the Menapia of the Itineraries, one of the ports for Ireland (Wright, Celt, Roman, and Saxon, 138). The Roman road Via Julia led to it; the voyage across was 45 miles; the Menapii, one of the tribes which held the E. coast of Ireland, were no doubt a colony from the opposite shore of Britain (ib. 43); David's baptism by the bp. of Munster indicates a religious connexion between Menevia and Ireland. The tradition of a mission of the British church to Ireland to restore the faith there, under the auspices of David, Gildas, and Cadoc (Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, i. 115) points the same way. May we not, therefore, assume that the see was removed because the tide of Saxon conquest drove the British church to cultivate closer relations with their Celtic brethren opposite?

As primate, David distinguished himself by saintly character and apostolic zeal, a glowing, not to say an overcharged, description of which is given in Giraldus. It is generally agreed that Wales was divided into dioceses in his time. Rees, in his learned essay on the Welsh saints, shews that of the dedications and localities of the churches of the principality, a large number terminate in David's native name, ddewi, or are otherwise connected with his memory (Welsh Saints, p. 52). These instances, moreover, abound in a well-defined district; and Rees has ingeniously used these circumstances as indicating the limits of the diocese of archbp. David's immediate jurisdiction (ib. pp. 197-199). David's successor was Cynog.

Jones and Freeman (St. David's, 246 seq.) conclude that we may safely accept as historical facts: that St. David established a see and monastery at Menevia early in the 7th cent., the site being chosen for the sake of retirement; that his diocese was co-extensive with the Demetae; that he had no archiepiscopal jurisdiction; that a synod was held at Brefi, in which he probably played a conspicuous part, but that its objects are unknown; and finally that of his immediate successors nothing is recorded (ib. 257). These writers convey a vivid impression of the "strange and desolate scenery" of the spot now named after St. David, and give some curious antiquarian details. Haddan and Stubbs (Councils, i. 115-120) give dates to the synod of Brefi and the synod of Victory, a little before 569 and in 569, later than Rees's latest possible date for David's death; and they regard the accounts given of the synods by Ricemarchus, and Giraldus after him, as purely fabulous, and directed to the establishment of the apocryphal supremacy of St. David and his see over the entire British church. They express much doubt as to the purpose of those assemblies being to crush Pelagianism. Valuable documentary information and references as to the whole subject of the early Welsh episcopate are given in Appendix C (op. cit.), and it is maintained that "there is no real evidence of the existence of any archiepiscopate at all in Wales during the Welsh period, if the term is held to imply jurisdiction admitted or even claimed (until the 12th cent.) by one see over another."

David was canonized by pope Calixtus c. a.d. 1120, and commemorated on Mar. 1 (Rees, op. cit. 201).


« Dativus, celebrated senator David, Welsh saint Decius, emperor »
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