A beautiful book for St David’s Day

David of Wales was a 6th-century monk and bishop who, since the 12th century has been regarded as the patron saint of Wales. Before indulging in too many drinks in his honour, however, remember that his nickname was ‘Aquaticus’, from his leadership of a group of reformed monks who drank neither wine nor beer but only water … According to the earliest life of David, by Rhygyfarch, an 11th-century bishop, David founded ten monasteries, including Menevia (i.e. St David’s) and Glastonbury, where monks lived in extreme hardship undertaking hard labour sustained by vegetables, bread and water. Total immersion in cold water is listed among David’s favourite austerities. The cult of St David was approved in 1120 and two pilgrimages to St David’s monastery were decreed to be worth one to Rome. Several English kings visited David’s shrine, including William I and Henry II.

The Life of Saint David (1927)

The Life of Saint David (1927)

In 1927, the Gregynog Press – established as a private press in 1922 in rural mid-Wales by the sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies – published The Life of Saint David in a limited edition of 175 copies. Freely adapted from Rhygyfarch’s 11th-century Latin biography, Ernest Rhys’s text is illustrated with handsome, hand-coloured wood engravings designed and cut by the printer Robert Maynard and Horace Bray. The image shown here gives a taste of the high production values which made the Gregynog Press one of the leading private presses of its day, and the Library is extremely fortunate to possess a complete set of Gregynog Press editions, in special bindings, within its Sterling Library. The image also reinforces why St David was nicknamed ‘Aquaticus’ …

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