According to legend, Dewi Sant, patron saint of Wales, evangelist, preacher, community builder and possible ascetic, died this day 1424 years ago. We celebrated the event this morning in Collective Worship in English (some) and Welsh (mostly) to give children an idea of the strangeness of Welsh to English ears. NGFL Cymru has a lovely little infant-type reading book for this sort of occasion, so we learnt that Dewi went to school and learnt to read and write and that he worked hard (although, like most school children for the next 1200 years or more, the hard work was in the fields). We learnt that he preached over the Celtic world and led the diocese of Menevia until his death. What we didn’t see, was the complexity of the political settlement of the time, in the 150 years or so after the Romans left, with Irish warlords, a thriving learning culture around the Irish Sea, and border wars to the north with the approaching Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, principally pagan at least until the middle of the 7th century.
He is a good guy to reflect on. Evangelism and outreach coupled with community living of a type that became the norm around the Irish Sea, and which was only finally swept away by the Normans 500 years later, when less porous monasteries, in thrall to Rome, began to dominate the landscape and combine piety with political power. And Dewi lived with a solid rootedness in and with nature that characterises a lot of Celtic spirituality, a recognition that God is invested in his creation and lives within it as well as around it. Live in the beautiful world of wonders, care for it, farm it, live under the graciousness of God through it.
However, for all his greatness, he doesn’t make it into the new English History curriculum – too Welsh, and not close enough to London, for a start. So that is a second reason to celebrate his name day.