St David’s Day – A celebration of Welsh history to remember
Visit Wales on March 1 and you’ll see children in red shawls and black chimney hats, bright green leeks and yellow daffodils turned into colourful accessories. There will be a joyous air of celebration and national pride among local folk. It’s all in honour of Dewi Sant – St David – but not much is actually known about the patron saint himself.
Who was St David?
St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire by seentwistle
Legend has it that he went on a pilgrimage, which led all the way to Jerusalem, where he was made an Archbishop. His miracles, though, happened closer to home – people began making their own pilgrimages to St David’s Cathedral, which he founded in West Wales, after word swiftly spread of his ability to make the earth rise beneath him, suggesting a power which could ward off the invading Normans.
St David's Day celebrations
St Davids Day Parade 2014, Cardiff by Simon.Matthews
Almost 900 years after he was pronounced a saint, St David’s Day is the unmissable highlight of spring in Wales. The National St David’s Day Parade sends a red and yellow carnival across the centre of Cardiff, featuring all sorts of fiery performances from giant dragons and theatrical groups, not to mention star turns from the likes of Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. A rousing mass rendition of the national anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, finishes the procession outside St David’s Hall, where you can enjoy a special gala concert from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the evening.
But if you’re not planning to be in the capital, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. Aberystwyth, Wrexham and Llandudno are among the places to witness flamboyant parades, and many of the country’s castles and heritage sites throw open their doors for free on the day.
One of them is the magnificent St Davids Bishop’s Palace, the lavish medieval design of Bishop Henry de Gower, built on the tip of the western coast and symbolising the power religious leaders held in his day. The ruin stands next to the imposing cathedral which was the Saint’s final resting place, and the surrounding streets – set in Britain’s smallest city – are the scenes for a fitting mini-festival in honour of their holiest former resident.
Oriel Gallery, Gwynedd, Snowdonia
Led by clergy, the annual Pilgrims’ Walk leads to the illumination of the St David’s Day Stone, ending at the spectacularly beautiful Oriel y Parc, where you can wander around a traditional Welsh market, dance to live bands and even pick up some of the language from native speakers waiting to teach you the lingo. You might want to return to the cathedral at some point, because it’s said that two trips to it are the ecclesiastical equivalent of a pilgrimage to Rome.
Or if you’re further inland, take a look at the boisterous goings-on in Swansea, where a market and train rides along the coast accompany crafts at the city’s museum and the Get Welsh Food and Drink Festival, which is a tasty chance to find out why Wales can be particularly satisfied with some of its culinary creations over the centuries.