Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March each year. The first day of March was chosen in remembrance of the death of Saint David. Tradition holds that he died on that day in 569. The date was declared a national day of celebration within Wales in the 18th century.
Cross-party support resulted in the National Assembly for Wales voting unanimously to make Saint David’s Day a public holiday in 2000.
Saint David (Welsh: Dewi Sant) was born towards the end of the 5th century. He was a scion of the royal house of Ceredigion, and founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro), at the spot where St David’s Cathedral stands today. David’s fame as a teacher and ascetic spread throughout the Celtic world. His foundation at Glyn Rhosin became an important Christian shrine, and the most important centre in Wales. The date of Saint David’s death is recorded as 1 March, but the year is uncertain – possibly 588. As his tearful monks prepared for his death Saint David uttered these words: “Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil.”
For centuries, 1 March has been a national festival. Saint David was recognised as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Saint David’s Day was celebrated by Welsh diaspora from the late Middle Ages. Indeed, the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for Saint David’s Day would spark wider counter-celebrations amongst their English neighbours: life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically lynched, and by the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing “taffies”—gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat—on Saint David’s Day.
In the poem Armes Prydain, composed in the early to mid-tenth century AD, the anonymous author prophesies that the Cymry (the Welsh people) will unite and join an alliance of fellow-Celts to repel the Anglo-Saxons, under the banner of Saint David: A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant (And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi). Although there were periodic Welsh uprisings in the Middle Ages, the country was not united as a kingdom. In 1485, Henry VII of England, whose ancestry was partly Welsh, became King of England after victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field; his green and white banner, with a red dragon, was adapted in 1959 to become the new Flag of Wales. Henry was the first monarch of theHouse of Tudor: during this dynasty the royal coat of arms included a Welsh dragon, a reference to the monarch’s origins. The Flag of Saint David, though, is a golden cross on a black background: this was not originally part of the symbolism ofHenry VII of England.