Today is St David’s Day. David is believed to have died on 1 March 589. He is the patron saint of Wales. His Welsh name, by which he was known, is Dewi.
Like most Medieval saints, David’s biography is a mixture of fact and fiction. These are the undisputed facts. Although his hagiography was written many centuries after his death, he really existed (not true of a great many saints from the Middle Ages). He was central to the conversion of the western Celts in the 6th century. He was archbishop of Wales. He founded numerous churches. He was an active opponent of Pelagianism. Oh dear – let me not go into a long theological discourse. Pelagius argued that human perfection was possible through human will – Augustine denied this, arguing that divine grace was necessary. I had enough of this nonsense when I was at Oxford. Let us just say my tutors and examiners were not thrilled with me.
His best-known miracle is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi. The village of Llanddewi Brefi stands on the spot where the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill. A white dove, which became his emblem, was seen settling on his shoulder. Historian John Davies notes that one can scarcely “conceive of any miracle more superfluous” in that part of Wales than the creation of a new hill. He was supposedly preaching against Pelagianism at the time.
The leek is the national symbol of David and Wales.
This from Henry V, act V, scene I, the first known reference to Welshmen wearing the leek in their hats on St David.
Nay, that’s right; but why wear you your leek today?
Saint Davy’s day is past.
There is occasions and causes why and wherefore in
all things: I will tell you, asse my friend,
Captain Gower: the rascally, scald, beggarly,
lousy, pragging knave, Pistol, which you and
yourself and all the world know to be no petter
than a fellow, look you now, of no merits, he is
come to me and prings me pread and salt yesterday,
look you, and bid me eat my leek: it was in place
where I could not breed no contention with him; but
I will be so bold as to wear it in my cap till I see
him once again, and then I will tell him a little
piece of my desires.
Among other things, the barred “l” is a distinctive feature of Welsh. English speakers typically cannot pronounce it – it is a guttural “l.” They end up with two choices – either turn it into “fl” as Shakespeare did or pronounce it as a simple “l” – as in Lloyd. Both are wrong.
Anyway . . . leeks. An incredibly versatile vegetable and incredibly underused. No recipe again today, but some advice. Cut your leeks very thin and poach them in butter. Then use them as a base for anything you want. Buttered leeks are perfectly delicious. Use them in place of onions in any sauce. Use them in soup. Baste them in oil and roast them along with your potatoes.