The healing properties of the leek made it an apt, if pungent, choice as St David’s symbol for identifying Welsh soldiers in a long-ago battle. Find out more about this founding pillar of the early Christian church in the West – St David, that is, not the leek!
St David was a sixth century bishop in Wales. He was probably born in Henfynyw to Saint Non and was the grandson of the King of Ceredigion. During his life he developed a reputation as a teacher and travelled Wales, Brittany and the west country preaching and founding numerous churches and monasteries.
He lived a life of ascetism and insisted on the same from his monks. No animals were allowed to help with the heavy farm work – which was to be completed in silence and prayer – and only bread and vegetables, milk and water were available to eat.
Although he is said to have restored the sight to a blind man and resurrected a child, his best-known miracle is the formation of a small hill in the village of Llanddewi Brefi so that everyone could see and hear him as he preached. During this sermon a white dove landed on his shoulder and this image – St David on a small hill with a white dove on his shoulder – is the most common depiction of him. St David is also responsible for Wales’ association with leeks; during a battle against the pagan Saxons he advised the Welsh soldiers to wear leeks so enemies and allies could be easily identified. The Welsh won the battle.
His final words to his monks when he died in 589 were: “Do the little things, the small things you’ve seen me doing…”
Although sadly St David, like St George, does not have his own bank holiday, the day is still celebrated widely across Wales and further afield. St David’s flag – black with a yellow cross – is flown and leeks or daffodils are widely worn. The annual St David’s Day run takes place in Cardiff and there are parades, concerts, male voice choirs and food markets aplenty.
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