Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Dydd Dewi Sant - St David's Day


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

Stained glass window depicting St David 

He eventually settled at Glyn Rhosyn (St David's), in south-west Wales, where he established a very strict 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. Rhigyfarch was the son of the Bishop of St David's, and the account was written as propaganda to establish Dewi's superiority and defend the bishopric from being taken over by Canterbury and the Normans.

From the 12th century onwards, Dewi's fame spread throughout South Wales and as far as Ireland and Brittany.

St David's Cathedral and Bishop's Palace (built on the old monastry).

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.

Now St David’s Day is celebrated by schools and cultural societies throughout Wales. It is the custom on that day to wear either a leek or a daffodil , and for young girls to wear the national costume.

When I was at school, St David's day was a half day holiday. The morning would be taken up with the school Eisteddfod, with performances of poetry, short stories, music and singing (a Glee for the olden days!)

The traditional food would be Cawl (a kind of lamb stew) and Welsh cakes. I haven't made Welsh cakes for a few years, but have dug out an old recipe.

Welsh Cakes Recipe
Pice ar y Maen


Welsh Cakes are a specialty of South Wales. Essentially they are griddle cakes (called a bakestone in Wales), but they can also be cooked in a heavy pan or skillet.

500g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
250g  butter
250g  sugar
pinch of salt
250g mixed currants and sultanas (seedless raisins)
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice or mace (optional)
2 eggs
a little milk

Mix together the flour and baking powder with the salt, then rub in the butter.

Add the sugar, spice and fruit. Mix in the beaten egg and just enough milk (about 3 tablespoons) to make it the same consistency as short-crust pastry.

Turn out onto a floured board, roll out and cut into rounds about 5cm across and 1 cm thick.

Cook over a medium heat in a very lightly greased pan or bakestone for about 3-4 minutes on each side. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat, for the inside must have time to cook thoroughly so that it has a brittle, sandy texture.

Serve either hot or cold sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon.

Makes approximately 20.


  1. And a happy St David's Day to you!

  2. Oooh I haven't had welsh cakes for years! We always had them when we visited my uncle Bill (Dad's oldest brother) and Auntie Sylvia, who was from Port Talbot, and used to make them to her own recipe. I wonder if my cousin still has it? We've got a griddle, in a box in the barn somewhere, that came from Dad's. I remember him making them a couple of times too. Lovely! (In a Port Talbot accent). Word verification is guozedd, is that a welsh word?