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St. David's Day

Today is St David's Day. And there are two things I think of on St David's Day:

Daffodils. One of the most beautiful flowers in the world.

And St. David's, one of the most beautiful, tiniest, cities in the World.

Let's begin with Daffodils. In Latin they are called Narcissi (plural). Each little daffodil is a Narcissus, and that's a reminder of Narcissus of the Greek myths. A youth who was so beautiful (he was half god and half nymph after all) that his beauty eclipsed the beauty of all others. So beautiful was he that women fell in love with him and when he disdained their love they pined away or even committed suicide. So beautiful was he that when Echo the nymph fell in love with him, and found that her love was not returned, she slowly faded away into nothing but an echo.

Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, heard about Echo's heart break and decided to punish Narcissus. So she lured him to a pool of water, and when Narcissus saw his own reflection, he fell in love, with the most beautiful creature on earth. Himself of course! , himself of course; it happened when he went off to the pond and caught a reflection of himself. And because his own reflection could not return his own love, he too pined away. Until there was nothing left of him by the pool of water, except a daffodil, which sprang up in the spot by the pool where he had died. It's a beautiful, tragic, story. And since the days of the Greek Myths it has inspired many artists. Like John William Waterhouse, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, who depicted the story this way:

Or the wonderful American painter John Woodrow Kelley, who painted this beautiful image of Narcissus:

However the Daffodil came into being, it really is a very beautiful flower. It has the minimalism of a tulip, with just that little bit of extra flounce. It reflects the beauty of sun, and it is a perfect colour for the end of winter; a fitting reminder of the coming spring.

The daffodil begins to appear from the cold wintery earth when there is very little else happening in a Welsh garden in January. When there's been little sunshine and just as you think the winter will never end. And then you panic and think: "Oh No! It's to early! The daffodils will die in the frost."

But they don't. They push on, in that slow motion cinematic way, and then before you know the end of February is almost here and you think: "Oh No! They won't open in time for St. David's day!".

But they do! They do! They always do. (Knock on wood.) In fact this year they opened well before St. David's day, thank to the beautiful four sunny warm days (hottest ever on record, again) that we've just had leading up to the end of the month. So here they are this year, in all of their glory, heralding the first signs of spring but also in time for Saint David's day.

They are beautiful not just because they remind us of the return of the sun, but also because they are so hardy (they put up so well with wet Welsh winters) and thee are so many varieties and they multiply over the years so that if you are patient, they will slowly colonise patches of your garden. Or so I am told.

As Mary Hampden wrote in her Bulb Gardening book (1924): "The whole tribe [by this she means all of the many different varieties of Daffodils, of which there are about 13,000] is wonderful, and embraces so many valuable attributes that none can fail to appreciate their value".

And Mary Hampden was just talking about the beauty of the flowers. Now scientists say that the Daffodil is far more than just a beautiful flower, in fact it is a treasure trove of chemicals (which are found in the flower and in the bulbs) which are being used in research for treatment of cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and possibly also depression. So, another miraculous plant, just like the Foxglove about which I wrote earlier in the week.

St. David's Day

St. David's day is not a national holiday, but it really should be. Because we all need more public holidays,. And if I were the PM I'd make the 1st of March a Welsh national Holiday and then I'd make everyone in Wales flock to St. David's the city, to pay homage to St. David (Dewi Sant, in Welsh). Just because the city is so beautiful, and the cathedral is so beautiful and because St. David was a Good Man.

St. David was apparently born in 500 AD. A very handy number, if you have a bad memory for numbers.

He was born in a storm, on a Pembrokeshire cliff top. It's hard to explain why his mother, St Non, was hanging out on a perilous cliff top, in a storm, when she was about to give birth to a baby, but never mind. She managed it and now, if you go to St. David's, you can drive up to, or even walk up to, the very place where he is said to have been born. It is a beautiful spot. It lies on the Pembrokeshire Coastal path, and it's far away enough from the tiny city to feel suitably wild and, dare I say, pagan. Not every one knows about the little St Non grotto , or the holy spring, or the Chapel of St Non, but I like to take my visitors to Wales there first, before they head off to see the the magnificent Cathedral. The contrast between the two is striking, even though both are breathtakingly spectacular.

St. David was, apparently, the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, King of Ceredigion. But inspite his royal lineage he chose to devote his life to preaching and to founding monastic settlements and to follow "the simple life". He loved all animals so he was a devout vegetarian. And he shirked alcohol. Some say that he took his teetotalism and vegetarianism so far as to only consume leeks and water. Aside from this, he of course had to perform at least one miracle to be deemed a Saint. Which he did. Most famously, it was said that when he was preaching to a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi, he raised the ground beneath him into a hill so that his sermon could be heard by all.

Then, to avoid any doubt, God sent a dove to sit on his shoulder.

But what's that got to do with the Daffodil? Because St. David's always does conjure up images of daffodils.

I asked Google. One answer is that the Daffodil is a bit better than the other national symbol of Wales, the leek. Yes, the leek, which is also associated with St. David, but it's not quite as glamorous, is it! Dr Juliette Wood of Cardiff University says that the leek became associated with Dewi Sant because it was David himself who suggested, sometime in the 6th Century, that if the Welsh wore a leek during a battle with the Saxons it would be easier for them to recognise each other in battle.

But somehow the association of St. David and leeks didn't catch the public imagination. So, probably purely because the daffodils do burst into bloom at around the same time as St David's Day, at some point in more recent history the daffodil replaced the leek. Dr Wood claims that Lloyd George, the first Liberal PM of the UK, and the only Welsh PM of the UK thus far, wore the daffodil on St. David's day and then also encouraged its use at the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911. And that's how the trend took off.

St. David died on the 1st of March, at the grand age of 89. That diet of leeks and water served him well.

He was buried where St. David's Cathedral now stands, in St David's, Britain's smallest (by population) city, and possibly Britain's most beautiful city. Especially on a sunny day. His last words to his followers, at his last sermon before his death, were to ‘Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’

In Welsh this translates as "Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd" in Wales.

And I've been told that it means "Do the little things in life".  

Indeed! Happy St David's Day to you all!

#stdavid #stnon #daffodils #nationalwelshday #stdavids #leeks #saracrisp #narcissus #greekmyths #Gwnewchypethaubychainmewnbywyd #patronsaint

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