From Haverfordwest the party moved on north-westwards through Camrose, Newgale Sands and Pebydiog to the famous city of St Davids. Earlier in this series we looked at the status of St Davids and Gerald’s own struggle to become Bishop of St Davids.
Gerald paused in writing of his itinerary to talk about St David, the archbishop, and St Davids, the place. He told some stories of his own and used the Latin life of St David written by Rhigyfarch at the end of the eleventh century, five centuries after David’s death. David was the son of a Welsh prince called Sant and a girl called Nonnita. The place of his birth was marked in Gerald’s day by a church, and some think this is at the site of the present day St Non’s Chapel. He was baptised in a well at Porthclais.
After his education and start of his ministry, he and his companions settled at Vallis Rosina. Gerald, misunderstanding the meaning to be the valley of roses, commented that it would be better called Vallis Marmorea, the marble valley, since it was full of rocks rather than roses. In actual fact, rosina is derived from an old Celtic word meaning marsh or promontary. David lived an ascetic life and insisted the monks did too, dressing in skins and hauling the ploughs on their own shoulders.
David made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was consecrated bishop by the patriarch and given gifts which could still be seen in Gerald’s day. Gerald tells the story of the ‘Unfinished Gospel’, a page written in angelic gold letters, hidden since David’s day and still reverenced. He also tells of the synod of Brefi, where David spoke so eloquently against the Pelagian heresy that a dove settled on his shoulder and the ground rose beneath him so he could be better heard. David died on 1 March, which is still celebrated as St David’s Day every year in Wales.
Gerald describes St Davids as ‘still the capital of Wales’ but no longer ‘our venerable and unchallenged mother church’ or ‘the metropolitan city of an archbishop’. In fact, the cathedral founded there was in honour of St Andrew the apostle. St David’s cathedral came later.
[adapted from St David and St Davids by J Wyn Evans in A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.