Britishness, Culture, History, Religion

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

So there I was this morning, walking into the Wellness Center for my thrice weekly half-mile swim, when I meandered past the kiddie-pen (they always seem to be having a marvelous time) and noticed the large hanging banner in green sparkly cardstock wishing everyone a “Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!”

Glory be.

It doesn’t arrive for another two-and-a-half weeks, but when it does it will be celebrated in all parts of the Emerald Isle, even by Catholics in the Protestant North, and also marked loudly and festively, all round the world.

Meanwhile, March 1 is St. David’s Day, one reserved for the patron saint of Wales.

David is believed to have been born somewhere in the last half of the fifth century in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and he lived most of his early religious life as a teacher and preacher.  He rose quickly through the ranks as a result of his oratorical and organizational skills, becoming the Welsh archbishop shortly after performing a miracle in which a small hill spontaneously appeared beneath him (allowing the crowd to see and hear him preach more easily), while a dove settled on his shoulder.  David is also credited with several additional miracles,  including those involving the resurrection of a dead child, and the restoration of a blind man’s sight.

It appears that David’s monastic rule was rather rigorous, and seemingly at least–like many early Christian saints–vegetarian.  His monks pulled the plows at their abbey’s themselves, and:

David and his fellow members within this community believed hard manual labor was the duty of all, thus preferring not to use cattle to help them plow the fields. They resolved to maintain a diet of bread and vegetables, with just a sprinkling of salt, so as not to inflict unnecessary suffering upon any creature by taking its life for food–Holly Roberts, Vegetarian Christian Saints

David is believed to have died around the year 600 and some records indicate that he was canonized around 1120 by Pope Calixtus II.  Dozens of churches founded by and/or named for David still exist in Wales today, and his shrine at St. David’s Cathedral in Mynyw, which was a popular pilgrimage destination during the Middle Ages, is still the Cathedral of the Western Welsh See.

I know not why St Patrick is more than first among equals of the Saints of the British Isles and Éire.  First glance might indicate that it’s something to do with the difficulty of wishing someone a “Happy St. David’s Day,” in Welsh (see the post title).  But that’s probably not it, as I don’t guess that “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” in Irish is a day at the beach either.  And “Happy St. Andrew’s Day” (November 30) in Gaelic (Latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh!) is just impossible.

How lucky we are to have English to solve all these ticklish problems.

But even that hasn’t saved poor old St. George, whose own day (April 23) languished in the doldrums and virtually uncelebrated for hundreds of years, without much of a presence in popular culture at all. I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and ascribe that fact partly to the well-known (and regrettable) reluctance of the English to wave their own flag and toot their own horn without a sense of deep embarrassment (“it simply isn’t done!“), and partly to the difficulties associated with George’s infernal “bloody cross” and all the unwelcome, unwoke, and bothersome historical, religious, and cultural baggage it evokes and has come to represent, even more so in the last seventy years.

There are some indications that this trend is reversing, although the recent advice–given to the English football fans at the recent World Cup matches in Qatar–to be rather discreet about wearing shirts with the English flag on them or waving the flag itself in the streets or in the football stands, are not encouraging.  While St. Patrick’s Day and St. Andrew’s Day are bank/public holidays in their respective countries, neither St. David’s Day nor St. George’s Day is in theirs.

But, this year, I’ll just set all those matters aside and take my saints one at a time, starting with Dewi, the one for whom my father was named.

Happy St. David’s Day!

1 thought on “Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!”

  1. I think the primacy given to Patrick is partly due to his antiquity, even compared to the likes of David, and also due to Americans. Thanks to the multitudes of Irish emmigrants to America, the celebration of St. Patrick’s day turned into what modern anthropologists would call a “condensed symbol” – a marker that meant far far more than it’s original purpose. Celebrating St. Patrick’s day was a way to remember Ireland, and keep that memory going through the generations, more than it was to celebrate a beloved saint. And Americans, being Americans, and thus able to commercialize practically anything, seized on St. Patrick as a way to sell a simulacrum of Ireland back to the descendants of the Irish (I oughta know, I’m one of ’em), and thence to the rest of the world in the form of riotous drinking. Cinco de Mayo is rapidly suffering the same fate, being now an occasion to party in places entirely disconnected from Mexican history. I have little doubt but that St. Patrick would by no means approve. St. David has, it seems, been spared that fate, even at the price of some degree of obscurity.

    St. George is a fascinating case, though, as he seems to have displaced in memory a great number of English (or at least British) saints who were once widely revered. I think of Cuthbert, Dunstan, Columba, Brendan, and many others.

    Speaking of Cuthbert, though, this short just came out about a month ago:

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