Friday, 1 March 2013

St. David's Day

Dydd gwyl Dewi Sant hapus
Baner cenedlaethol Cymru 
Best Wishes for St David's Day 
Welsh Leek

St David's Day is celebrated in Wales on 1 March, in honour of Dewi Sant or St David, the patron saint of Wales. Little is known about him for certain. What little information we have is based on an account of his life written by Rhigyfarch towards the end of the 11th century.

From the 12th century onwards, Dewi's fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany. St David's Cathedral became a popular centre of pilgrimage, particularly after Dewi was officially recognised as a Catholic saint in 1120. From this period on, he was frequently referred to in the work of medieval Welsh poets such as Iolo Goch and Lewys Glyn Cothi. In 1398, it was ordained that his feast-day was to be kept by every church in the Province of Canterbury. Though the feast of Dewi as a religious festival came to an end with the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the day of his birth became a national festival during the18th century.

According to this Latin manuscript, Dewi died in the year 589. His mother was called Non, and his father, Sant, was the son of Ceredig, King of Ceredigion. After being educated in Cardiganshire, he went on pilgrimage through south Wales and the west of England, where it is said that he founded religious centres such as Glastonbury and Croyland. He even went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was made archbishop.

St. David's Cathedral
He eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David's), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict ascetic religious community. Many miracles have been attributed to him, the most incredible of which was performed when he was preaching at the Synod of Llanddewibrefi - he caused the ground to rise underneath him so that he could be seen and heard by all. How much truth is in this account of his life by Rhigyfarch is hard to tell. It must be considered that Rhigyfarch was the son of the Bishop of St David's, and that the Life was written as propaganda to establish Dewi's superiority and defend the bishopric from being taken over by Canterbury and the Normans.

Watercolour sketch of Welsh woman knitting, showing footless stockings, mid-19th century The image of the 'Welsh Lady', in a tall black hat, red shawl and flannel skirt is very well known. It has become the national costume of Wales. But how does it compare with what was really worn in the past?
Perhaps this illustration from the National Museum of Wales more accurately depicts the origin of the national dress we see today.


The harpist at Llanover Court, 19th century

So - do the Welsh have a kilt?
Although Lady Llanover created 'a weird and wonderful' costume made for her court harpist (left), she was not particularly concerned with a national costume for men. As a result, Welsh men do not have a national dress, although attempts have been made in recent decades to 'revive' a Welsh kilt which never in fact existed! Even in Scotland, there is evidence to show that the kilt as we know it today is a comparatively modern development from the belted plaid, which was a more substantial garment worn across the shoulder.

1 comment:

  1. I have been informed from a friend from the Cardiff area, that as children up until the age of 8 the girls dress up on St David's Day as the welsh lady, and the boys dress up as coal miners.


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