St David's Shrine

St David

Portrait of St David | Dewi Sant
Portrait of St David

David was born in the year 500, the son of St Non and a prince of Ceredigion. Legend states that Non gave birth to him on a cliff top during a violent storm. The present cathedral stands on the site of the monastery he founded in the inhospitable area known as 'Glyn Rhosyn.' David and his followers lived a simple life; they refrained from eating meat or drinking beer. David's symbol, now a national symbol of Wales, is the leek.

David rose to become a bishop in the church and made several pilgrimages including one to Jerusalem during which, tradition states, he brought back with him a stone which now sits in an altar in the south transept of the cathedral.

The best known miracle associated with David is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. When those at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. A white dove settled on his shoulder, a sign of God's grace and blessing.

David died in the year 589 and the monastery is said to have been 'filled with angels as Christ received his soul'. His final words to his followers were: 'Be Joyful. Keep the Faith. Do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.'

St David's Shrine

In the twelfth century Pope Calixtus II declared St Davids Cathedral to be a place of pilgrimage. It was at this time that the medieval shrine was constructed and situated in the presbytery, close to the High Altar. Pope Calixtus II also stated that the shrine was so important that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Rome, three were equivalent to one to Jerusalem.

Since then the path of pilgrimage has been trodden by hundreds of thousands of individuals. The destruction of the Shrine during the reformation caused a steep decline in this important religious practice; however, throughout the periods of religious and political turmoil pilgrims have continued to visit the site.


St Davids shrine in the 19th century. After Charles Norris (1779-1858). Image: Royal Collection Trust.
St Davids shrine in the 19th century. After Charles Norris (1779-1858). Image: Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 702602.


The Shrine Restoration

St Davids Shrine after restoration. Image: Tony Hisgett, CC BY 2.0.
St Davids Shrine after restoration. Image: Tony Hisgett, CC BY 2.0.

The restored Shrine of St David was unveiled and re-dedicated by The Right Reverend Wyn Evans, Bishop of St Davids, at a Choral Eucharist on St David's Day 2012.  

The Dean of St Davids, The Very Reverend Jonathan Lean, in his sermon said: 'This shrine honours St David and his life and let us remember his last words to his followers: "Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things" and let us pray that today will mark the beginning of our great mission to turn visitors into pilgrims.'

The Icons

Sarah Crisp painted and gilded the five icons which have been installed to sit within the exisiting niches of the restored shrine.

The icons, made in egg tempera on gesso, depict St David and other saints associated with the cathedral and the local area.  

The three icons at the front of shrine depict from left to right St Patrick, St David and St Andrew. 

At the rear of the shrine are two further icons which depict the mother of David St Non, the mother of David, and St Justinian who was a contemporary of David. 

The icons are painted on lime wood panels and combine the styles of classic Byzantine with early Italian works. Traditional paint and techniques were used throughout.

The Canopy

The painted oak canopy installed above the shrine was made by Friend Wood, to designs by Peter Bird, and seeks to replicate an original thirteenth century construction.  It is painted in medieval colours and decorated with gold stars to represent the heavens.  The white roses, joining the ribs of the canopy, represent the beauty of the gospel which holds together both heaven and earth.

Eleven wood carvings at the top of the canopy relate to different aspects of the lives of the saints depicted in the icons beneath them.  The central wood carving of a scallop's shell, also known as the pilgrim's shell, is an ancient symbol of pilgrimage and baptism used by pilgrims on their journeys to centres of pilgrimage such as St Davids.


Three niches, formerly for kneeling at the foot of the shrine, now house two reliquaries, reputed to contain the remains of St David and St Justinian, and a replica of a Celtic 'bangu' bell. 

The Sanctuary Lamp

The hanging sanctuary lamp was made by silversmith, Francis Northall, who included in the design a dove and a star as depicted in the icon of St David and the canopy.  The lamp also bears a special hallmark to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee.