Saint David, Patron Saint of Wales

Artwork by Michael Galovic

Dewi Sant, or Saint David, Patron Saint of Wales, is an outstanding addition to Michael Galovic’s fascinating collection of Celtic Saints.

According to the hagiography written by the Welsh scholar, Rhygyfarch, around five centuries after Dewi’s death, his mother, St Non, had been violated by a former chieftain who had abdicated to become a wandering monk. It would seem a less than auspicious beginning, but both St Non and Dewi transcended it. Even prenatally, Dewi’s presence was such that when the monk and historian Gildas attempted to give a service at the monastery of Ty Gwyn, where the pregnant Non was studying, he was so overwhelmed he could not regain his concentration until Non and the unborn Dewi left the church.

It was also said that Dewi was born dead but was resuscitated by Bishop Ailbe (subsequently canonised), who was present at the birth and then fostered Dewi, who was educated at the monastery of Yr Henllwyn, with Rhygyfarch noting that he ‘grew up full of grace and lovely to be looked at’. His progress was rapid- his fellow students ‘saw a dove with a golden beak playing about his lips, teaching him, and singing the hymns of God’. Dewi went on to found many monasteries and churches, including one at Glastonbury.

In an era of violence and intolerance, Dewi maintained a deep commitment to the core Christian values of compassion and service towards the weak and the poor, thus embodying the mindfulness that is a fundamental aspect of Celtic spirituality. It is these aspects that Michael has captured so beautifully in his icon of the saint.

The face has a certain thoughtfulness, created in part by its asymmetry and slight angling; it is the face of a gentle and contemplative saint looking outwards, whose concern for his fellows is also manifest in the slight furrowing of his brows. The gentleness of the face is further accentuated by its contrast with the vivid and angular highlights in Dewi’s robe.

Throughout the work Michael has alluded to Dewi’s Celtic nature- his Cross is in the Celtic form and his Bible is beautifully embellished with a delicate and intricate single line interwoven pattern symbolising eternity.

The use of Celtic elements within the portrait is enhanced by the graphic, and beautifully executed, border. Combined with the interplay of colour, including the differing shades of gold leaf, and form, the work is a vibrant and cohesive whole. It is a truly fitting monument to a saint whose last sermon exhorted his community to:

‘Be joyful and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.’

Kerrie Magee’s working background was mainly in the field of Gifted Education. She has an MA in Medieval Studies, but her interest in the era began decades earlier. She bought her first book on Icons in her mid teens and her interest continues to grow.

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14 November 2021

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Michael Galovic

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