Dewi ap Sanctus ap Ceredig


A short study of St. David encompassing historical texts, historical figures, myths, legends, sacred (archaeology) sites and traditions, all brought together in one paper.

St. David the patron saint of Wales is steeped in both history, tradition and localised in the landscape of South Wales, Somerset and Devon. Yet considering this delightful mixture it requires careful unwrapping into its component parts.

Rhygyfarch ap Sulien (1056/7-1099) a monk credited with recording the life of St. David within the native class of Llanbadarn Fawr, near Aberstwyth The manuscript became written shortly after the Norman held authority over England. However it has led scholars to speculate the impetus of recording Dewi life may have been to celebrate William I, visit in 1081 to St. David's. Although other reasons for such a visit has been connected to the internal dynastic dispute which later erupted in the Battle at Mynydd Carn that year. Nonetheless St. David's had long been considered a seat of learning since the 9th century. Even though it suffered from several Viking raids the last being 1072. Shortly afterwards Rhygyfarch farther Bishop Sulien was appointed to the Archbishopric of St. David's first in 1073-1078 and again from 1080-1085. Therefore it may comes as no surprise manuscripts survived from Llanbadarn Fawr concerning St. Dewi, rather than from St. David's. The survival of which has lead to suggestions the seat of learning became transferred to Llanbardarn. Indeed Viking attacks in 998 and 1072 left St. David's position venerable, it is logically any surviving documentation became transferred is indeed a fact, which Rhygyfarch brings to our attention in his work. Thus scholars indicate Rhygyfarch ap Sulien had access to old manuscripts associated with Mynyw (St. David's), along with those from Llanbadarn which assisted him to write the life of Dawi Sant in c. 1090.

St. Non WellThe name of Dewi ap Sanctus ap Ceredig ap Cunedda within the Latin texts genealogy displayed within his name automatically gives Dewi a standing within the society of its period. Additionally his relationships to three past generations are indicated along the patriarchal line. Therefore Dewi is (ap) the son of King Sanctus, the son of Ceredig the founder of Ceredigion who was the son of Cunedda. Dewi mother, Nonita was following the life of chastity, similar to an early Christian Nun who later became violated by Sanctus. In turn Sandde (Sanctus), lord of Ceredigion despoiled Non, and from this union Dewi was conceived. In contrast according to the Welsh texts Non is the daughter of Cynyr Ceinfarfog the lord of Caer Goch in Mynwy, thus Non is from royal decent. This is not the only genealogy line which has been attributed to Dewi, other connects him to Vortigan and Dinas Emerys while another make connections to King Arthur.


St Non ChapelThere is a tradition which surrounds Non during her pregnancy when she took shelter in a church in which Gildas was preaching and subsequently the unborn child presence stunned Gildas into silence. Further tradition relates Dewi birth which occurred during a violent thunderstorm, when Non took shelter at some standing stones. During the birth there was calm within the area of the stones, while outside its parameter the storm still raged. The stones too are said to have received the impression of Non fingers during labour. On this spot of Dewis birth a church was built. However the birth place has since been identified with St.Non chapel since the 18th century. Within the chapel is a narrow stone which bears the wheel cross which is located in the SW corner, although I did not see any finger impressions on it. Nonetheless, a short distance away is Non Well where a natural spring is situated. All of these are just a short walk out from St. David's.

The early life of St. Dawi commences with his Baptism which also cures the blindness of Movi who held him when some of the baptism water splashed into his eyes of his forehead. Still this was not be first person to recover there sight via Dewi, King of Erging and Paulinus the Aged sight was cured later on. Paulinus the aged was also Dewi's teacher and was St. IItudt later. Dewi received an education from him at LLanilludt now known as Llantwit Major together with other young monks who where later to become recognised as saints. There is some speculation which places Dewi, having completed his studies continued with St. Ninian abbot of Candida Casa in Galloway, Scotland. Apparently Casa had quite a reputation apart from being established in a hundred years before Dewi's arrival. Additionally Candida Casa is said to have maintained an extensive library, held in satchels which were hung on pegs containing the parchment books in manuscript form. St. Gildas has also been connected to Cadida Casa which is attributed to where he learnt some of his knowledge, and thus some writers attributing he was the wisest man in Britain. However the connection with St. Ninian is not supported by the text of Rhygyfarch, but this could well be a later addition explaining how Dewi gained the position of deacon.

Dewi also traveled extensively in the region of South Wales and Sumerset. There too, are associations which credit the establishment of an early church at Bath, Glastonbury, Leoimster, Llangyvelch and others. Although some of these might be obscure, Dewi is probably better recognized with his name sake at St. David's in Pembrokeshire. By the time this became established Dewi had a few followers who supported his approach to the divine. Such as St. Padarn and St. Tysilio However the land where they settled was in contention, this was under the domain of an Irish settler named Baia or Boia, who resided in a nearby hillfort which still carries his name today. Later sources attribute Boria to being an Irish Druid, but what evolves is a battle concerning the old ways, pitched against a new schema of seeing and living in the world. The Haographical writers determine the outcome as the new supersedes the old, thus the land is made available for Dewi and his followers c. 530 AD/CE. The austere life in which they led, working the land and spending time in prayer, with enough food to support there bodies. Such ideas suggest they are hallmarks of the regime attributed to the Desert Fathers of Egypt and North Africa, and those practiced by earlier and later hermits. Similar austere condition were also carried on by the anchorite movement when serving the divine.

Nonetheless Dewi's new centre of religious contemplation became a magnet for other like minded souls in the 6th century. Due to the closeness to Ireland there saints also became intertwined with St. David's. There is a story concerning Modomnoc, St. David's bee keeper who is said to have brought the bees to Ireland only after being blessed by St. David and on his third attempt. Aiden is also associated with Dewi in the Welsh tradition. Likewise St. Justinian settled on Ramsey Island and became the soul mate of St. David. This is probably a later addition as it has similarities to the Céli dé (clients of God). There too is a connection with St. Germanus who also was taught by Paulinus, but played an active part in the synod at Llanbevri when 118 bishops came together to discuss the Pelagian hearsay. Here Dewi preached but before he started a white dove descended onto his shoulders according to tradition and the Latin text. Inclusive of the mound on which he was standing also grew on which Dewi addressed the synod. It is from this event which Dewi is acclaimed to be the Archbishop of the Britons, by the bishops who were in attendance and nobles alike. Nonetheless there was another synod of Victory which probably relates to about 200 years later in c. 798 AD/CE which is when the Britons excepted the Roman Tonsue, the Easter calculations and recognised Roman church authority.

St. David's

Still during the life of Dewi the Yellow plague struck in which some of the monks from St. David's sought refuge in Aromoca or Brittany, in turn this has often been associated with St. Germanus departure. In turn it has been suggested the moment of monks, together with Dewi other genealogies connecting him to Arthur also became transferred along with the Arthurian stories. However that is quite a debatable subject and outside the boundaries of this subject. Although the existence of the Mystery Play, concerning the life on his Mother Nonita which derives from a Breton source dated to the 12th century could well add some weight to that argument. However the recorded fatality of the yellow plague by Gildas was Maelgyn Gwynedd within the sources, but it appears that Dewi stayed and survived its ravages.

Although Rhygyfarch recalls a tradition in writing in the 12th century of Dewi longevity given as 147 years, this could well be a distortion of oral tradition through time. However it would appear that he was forewarned of his approaching end of life on earth via angelic forces. They too had made similar announcement to other people who followed the austere life in Ireland. However its was in the 'hour of the matins' in which Dewi was taken from this plane of existence.

Bishop Palace St. David's

The original cell survived and came to play an important part in the movement of early Christianity. Interesting the cult of Dewi Sant which grew is restricted too, and found in the various church dedications, which are confined to southwestern Wales. It does not venture far into the southeast nor up into the northwest, or even into North Wales. This in turn places uncertainty on the generalization that a "Celtic" Church existed at least, as an organised body. More simply the early saints were likely to be localised cults, which followed its founder through example and reflect their interpretation of morals to live by during life to become closer to a divinity.

The cult of relics of people held in high regard within the communities flourished at the start of the medieval period, such associations derived from influences from Europe and the Norman conquest and the church encouraged there reverence. In later years within the texts one hears how important they had become in matters of law and settling disputes. Together with swearing allegiances on them and binding contracts between sovereign leadership. As in the case of St. David's relics being used by Gruffydd ap Rhys and Gruffudd ap Cyran prior to the battle at Mynydd Carn in 1081.


Internal Tower of St. David's

St. David's original cell has gone through various alterations as no doubt the present Church has also, which stands today. Its various bishops who have attended and represented the see has been involved in various controversies. The main ones concerning the metropolitan status which Gerald of Wales became involved with and took the argument all the way to Rome. However it had to wait until the 20th century before it was finally resolved. Then there is the claim by Urban of LLanduff where its see laid claim to the Archbishopric of Wales, Irrespective of these technicalities which has beset the cell of St. David's cathedral in the past. Its quite an Impressive place, steeped in the mists of tradition and conventional history.

© Astrocelt 1998

© Photo by Astrocelt 2003

Last updated April 26, 2005


Bowen, E.G., The Settlements of the Celtic Saints in Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff 1954

Leatham, D., Story of St. David of Wales, Llanerch facsimile, 1997 1st edton 1952

James, J.W., Rhygyvarch's Life of St. David: The basic Mid twelfth-century Latin Text with Introduction, Critical Apparatus and Translations, Board of Celtic Studies, University of Wales Press Cardiff 1967

Evans, S.E., (Ed) Rhygyvarch's Life of St. David. The Welsh Life of St. David, University of Wales Press, 1988

St. David, Wales,
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