St Davids – a potted history…
St Davids has changed significantly since the 19th century, when the city was isolated and neglected and described thus…
“At present its appearance is that of a poor village, the houses, excepting those of the clergy, being in a ruinous state. The locality is lonely, and the neighbouring district wild and unimproved; but it is still an interesting place as the seat of a large episcopal see, with a fine cathedral and the remains of other magnificent religious edifices.”
St Davids (Welsh: Tyddewi. “David’s house”) is a city (full name St David’s and the Cathedral Close) lying on the River Alun. St Davids is the United Kingdom’s smallest city in terms of both size and population. Being the final resting place of Saint David, Wales’s patron saint, it is the de facto ecclesiastical capital of Wales. St Davids was given city status in the 16th century because of St David’s Cathedral, but it was was lost in 1888. At the request of Queen Elizabeth II, the City status was restored in 1994.
In mediaeval times St. David’s Cathedral became a pilgrimage centre of considerable significance and was the centre of Celtic Christianity. Its great Cathedral and the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace bear testimony to its importance in an age when two pilgrimages to St. Davids equalled one to Rome.
St David is said to have been born around the year 520 and to have taken place on the cliffs in a wild thunderstorm near the city that is now named after him.
St Non’s Chapel is said to lie on the spot where David was born and was dedicated to his mother, Non. The ruins overlook the dramatic Pembrokeshire coastline.
Near to the chapel is St Non’s Holy Well which is said to have healing properties, so visitors often throw in a coin for good luck.
The shrine of St David is in his cathedral. It was thought of so highly by Pope Callistus II in the 12th Century that he stated that two pilgrimages to the shrine were worth one to the Vatican in Rome
About the year 550, St David is said to have founded a monastery close to the place where he was born. Here, he and his fellow monks lived a simple life, drinking only water and eating only bread and herbs. Meat and beer were forbidden and David became known as Dewi Dyfrwr (David the water drinker).
The monks farmed the land, but David insisted that they pull the plough and carry their tools without the help of animals. They spent the evenings in prayer, reading and writing, and weren’t allowed any personal possessions.
Next to the Cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace built mainly in the 1300s. In contrast to the frugal life of St David and his monks, the bishops lived in the grand palace where they feasted and entertained nobles and kings.