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New book celebrates images of Welsh patron saint in churches

A new book celebrates the depictions of Wales’ patron saint, St David, from churches all over Wales. Depicting St David by artist and historian Martin Crampin, seeks to foster a better understanding of the images of St David in all their colour and variety. 

Full of beautiful pictures, Depicting St David demonstrates the wide range of ways in which the saint was depicted: as both a young and an old man; richly dressed in episcopal regalia or in a simple monastic habit; standing alone, with other saints, or in pictures of scenes from his life. 

“Images of St David are found in a variety of media, although images in stained glass are by far the most numerous, and also demonstrate the most variety. Depicting St David is an introduction to the hundreds of images of David that can be found all over Wales,” says author Martin Crampin. 

Although he belongs to a distant medieval past, Wales still proudly celebrates St David every 1 March, and he remains very much part of the Welsh national consciousness. Images can be found in many of the nation’s churches, mainly in the form of nineteenth- and twentieth-century stained glass and sculpture. This book is the first to study this imagery, and most of the 170 images have never been published before. The book includes some information on the artists and studios that made them, local history and stories associated with St David. 

“There is a real need for the people of Wales to become better acquainted with these images and to appreciate them,” says Martin Crampin. “Some of the churches in which the images in this book were photographed have now closed, and although new homes are sometimes found for stained glass windows and sculpture from redundant churches, a growing number facing an uncertain future. I hope this book will encourage more visitors to go and seek out these images of Wales’ patron saint while we still have access to them. I have been visiting and recording this kind of imagery for over fifteen years and am still finding more.”

St David can usually be identified by the white dove which normally appears with him, and the majority of what we know of St David comes from a medieval text, written by Rhygyfarch of Llanbadarn Fawr in Ceredigion in the late eleventh century. Details such as David’s mother, Non, giving birth to him on a clifftop in a storm, his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the company of Saints Padarn and Teilo and his later confirmation as Archbishop in Wales at the synod at Brefi, where the ground rose beneath him as he preached, and a white dove sent by God settled on his shoulder, are all recorded by Rhygfarch, albeit 500 years after the time when St David is thought to have lived.