David is among the most common forenames in the world. It’s the name of the second king of the Hebrews (ca. 1000–962 BC), and means ‘beloved’ in Hebrew. It did not appear in England until after the Norman Conquest, but was already popular in the Celtic areas of Britain. Scotland had two King Davids (1124–53 and 1329–71) and in Wales the name is well known in the forms of Dafydd [1] and Dewi [2], as well as the pet form Dai [3].

[1] pronounced ‘DA-vidh’ ['davIð] where dh is the voiced th of ‘this’ not the voiceless th of ‘think’
[2] like ‘Derry’ said with a w instead of an r: ‘Dewwy’. Not ‘dewy’, as in ‘covered in dew’!
[3] rhymes with English ‘die’

Dewi Sant

As everyone knows, St David is the patron saint of Wales. His feast day is 1 March.

But which David? It’s a fairly popular name among saints and martyrs: the Blessed David Gonson was hanged drawn and quartered at Southwark in 1541, while St David Lewis, a Welsh Jesuit, met the same horrible end at Usk 138 years later. St David of Munktorp in Sweden (an Englishman) died around 1080, and other non-Welsh St Davids include King David I of Scotland and the Russian saint Gleb, son of St Vladimir, who took the name David on baptism. Here’s what Donald Attwater’s New Dictionary of Saints says about our David, Dewi Sant:

The patron saint of Wales lived in the sixth century. He founded a monastery Mynyw (Menevia) in the far west of Dyfed, and is venerated as the first bishop in those parts, now called St Davids after him [4]. The monks followed an extremely austere rule which included total abstinence from wine, whence they were called “the Watermen”; this led to controversy between St David and St Gildas, who said that the Menevian monks were more ascetic than Christian. The story that David was acclaimed “primate of Wales” at the synod of Brefi and that he was consecrated at Jerusalem is fictitious. d. 589(?). His feast is kept in Wales and in the English dioceses of Westminster and Portsmouth.
[4] In Welsh, Tyddewi, ‘David’s house’. It’s in Dyfed. There’s another St Davids in Newfoundland, not to mention a St David in Illinois and a St David County in Trinidad and Tobago. Bermuda has an island named after the saint and the tiny islands of Bras and Pegun off the north coast of Irian Jaya were previously known as the St David Islands.

Among various miracles, David once laid his handkerchief on the ground and stood on it, causing a hillock to rise up underneath his feet. A pretty neat trick and one which must be the envy of any open-air evangelist, besides underlining the importance of what your mother said about never leaving home without a clean handkerchief. You can find various accounts of the saint’s life via, though as ever with the internet, don’t assume everything you read is authoritative – and look out: for some reason this page plays the Hallelujah Chorus at you.


Attwater, D (1958, edited and revised John Cumming 1993) A New Dictionary of Saints. Tunbridge Wells: Burnes and Oates, ISBN 0-86012-207-7.

Further Reading

Twigg, Aeres (2000) Dewi Sant (Saint David). Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer (Cip Ar Gymru/Wonder Wales series), ISBN 1-85902-980-9, approx 150×210mm, £1.95 p/b. more
A glossily-presented booklet in both Welsh and English, about two dozen pages long.

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© 1999–2002 Harry Campbell
Updated: February 2002