We have just passed Saint David’s Day (3/1), and I want to write something about our patron. Not much is known with real certainty—the first surviving biography of David was written several centuries after his death. But David lived at an interesting and important time.
Christianity came early to the British Isles, no one knows quite when or how. Many Celtic groups adopted the new religion and a distinctive Celtic form of Christianity took shape. In the fifth century, pagan Angles and Saxons invaded Britain from what is now Germany (thus creating Anglo-Saxon culture as well as English and England—the language and place of the Angles). Celtic Christianity went into retreat.
Beginning around 600, Christian missionaries arrived at Canterbury in southeast England, sent by the Pope. They brought a more Roman form of Christianity to the British Isles and set about converting the pagan tribes they met.
But Celtic Christianity had survived as well, especially in places like Wales where David was an important figure. David supported the military resistance to the invading Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries. He established and led several monasteries which continued to promote Christian faith and to pass it on. He taught several people who went on to become Christian saints. And, somewhat against his will, he became the Archbishop of Wales, the leader of the battled Christian community in the region. As a result, David seems to have played a vital role in the survival of Celtic Christianity at the most dangerous time in its history.
David died in something like 544—too early to witness the resurgence of Christianity in the British Isles thanks to the papal-appointed missionaries, and much too early to witness the tension that eventually emerged between the two Christian groups. But I am grateful for the Celtic Christianity that David did so much to preserve and promote and which has become a potent spiritual resource in our own day.
“Almighty God, you called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may with him receive our heavenly reward; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
Fr. Harvey Hill
This blog is my occasional reflections on life, God, Christian faith, and the Church. I hope you find it helpful!