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St. Davids Flag (Wales)

Dewi Sant

Last modified: 2012-11-17 by rob raeside
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[Saint-David's Cross] by Roy Stilling

See also:

Use of the flag

The gold cross on black of St David has, as far as I know, never had an official status in Wales. The nearest to it was that it was used by Anglican churches in Wales before disestablishment in 1921. I have never seen it flying [as of 1995] - the nearest was a banner of the arms of the diocese of St David's which flew from my college on St David's day. The only written reference for the gold-and-black flag I have seen is in the 1961 edition of H. Gresham Carr's Flags of the World, but I cannot give chapter and verse.
Roy Stilling, 21 November 1995  

According to H. Gresham Carr's 1961 book, Flags of the World, a black cross on gold was used by Welsh Anglican churches until 1954. '[It] is said to have been taken from the arms of the manors of Llawhaden and Pebidiog (anciently known as Dewisland [NB: Dewi Sant is the Welsh for St David]), of which the early bishops of St David's were barons' (p66). This, of course, is the reverse of the gold cross on black flag previously mentioned.

However, the arms of the bishopric of St David's are a gold cross on black, like the flag mentioned, but with four outline black cinquefoils in the arms of the cross. I spent three years in Wales at university and I too never saw a cruciform flag being flown instead of the Red Dragon. However, on St David's Day (1st March), my college - St David's University College, Lampeter (Coleg Prifysgol Dewi Sant, Llanbedr Pont Steffan for any Welsh-speakers on the list) - flew a banner of the arms of St David's.
Roy Stilling, 3 September 1996

I live in Cardiff and I read the article on the FOTW website about the St David's Cross flag for Wales (gold cross on black field). Your contributor said 'I have never seen it flying'. It is given pride of place (at the moment anyway) on a tall flagpole on top of the Capitol Building, the biggest shopping centre in Cardiff city, and is placed higher up than the official Welsh flag (the red dragon). I can get a photo to you if you need.
Steve Teggin, 19 February 1998

The last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, Waverley, and her consort, the motor vessel Balmoral, are currently flying the St. David's Cross from their jack staffs when commanded by Welsh Masters, (St. Andrew's Cross is flown when a Scottish Master is in command). The Waverley is owned by Waverley Steam Navigation Ltd., on behalf of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, a registered charity. The Waverley and Balmoral are operated by Waverley Excursions Ltd. on coastal sailings in Britain and Ireland.
Victor Gray, 3 September 2001

The St. David's Cross is flown in Scotland whenever Wales play international rugby in Edinburgh against Scotland.
Robin McNaught, 14 September 2001

The St. David's Cross flag of Wales is now quite often seen and used. In 1996 I started a business called the Welsh Tartan Centre in Cardiff. This was the sale and hire of Welsh tartans and Welsh kilt regalias. It was sold to a Tony Collins of Swansea in 2002. Now we needed to be different to the Scots and the Irish so we decided to emblemize our tartans and kilts, and jackets, with something Welsh. We did not want the Welsh Dragon emblem but decided after research to introduce the St. David's Cross as the emblem on the brithwe Dewi Sant (St. David's Tartan in Welsh) - see website here for an example. We then did a very long publicity campaign pushing the new kilt and tartan products with the St. David's flag (cross) emblems thereon. We hung St. David's flags outside the shops in Cardiff etc., etc. Within a couple of years businesses having the name St. David as their logo, e.g. St. David's Hospitality. St. David's Tours. were using the St. David's Cross flag logo on their papers etc. This progressed to such an extent that the premier football club (soccer) in Wales, (Cardiff City, now top of Division Two in England) have decided to use the St. David's flag as their club emblem with a mascot bluebird in the centre. The St. David's cross appears on the front of their programme and on the grandstands etc., together with flags. The flag is growing in popularity.
John Wake, 12 October 2002

I've been making this flag since I started here in Wales in 1989. My father remembers making them for longer - but doesn't think they were around quite as long ago as 1969 (the Investiture). I certainly had one on my wall at school (along with a Dragon). More compelling than that however is an email letter written to me by the late Dr William Crampton in 1994 - which I quote hereunder in it's entirety.
Charles Ashburner, 15 October 2002

I would have to disagree with an earlier posting as to the reason many people in Wales have adopted the flag of St David. It is suggested that non-Welsh born residents of the country prefer it as it seems less nationalistic than Y Ddraig Goch (the red dragon). The actual truth of the matter is very few non-Welsh people living in Wales are even aware of its existence. It has, for some years been seen as a symbol of Welsh nationalism, though why more so than Y Ddraig Goch I cannot say. Strangely, certain followers of Swansea City football club have taken up with the loyalist movement (red hand of Ulster)... intense rivalry exists between
followers of Swansea and Cardiff and conversely, Cardiff City flags suddenly started to appear in the form of a St Davids cross, with 'Cardiff City' or in many cases 'Welsh not British' written across the middle. Since then, the clubs owner has seized on the feeling of togetherness of the City supporters and has adopted the cross in the team emblem. Though Lebanese, the owner is fully aware of the significance of the flag (at least to his own supporters) yet still adopted it even though he was accused in some quarters of stirring up nationalistic feelings
Kevin Roberts, 6 March 2004

Sable a cross or was used as a formation sign for one of the Welsh divisions in the Second World War.
Tim Saunders, 4 June 2003

That was the 38th Division. The formation sign of the other Welsh Division, the 53rd, was a red letter W on a horizontal line, with the triangle thus formed filled in.
David Prothero, 5 June 2003

I enjoyed reading the entries about the golden cross - we see it commonly on sale in Cardiff in recent years, but I do not know if anybody really has figured out its origins. Here is another imaginative exercise. During Glyndwr's war of liberation the other legal system in Wales was the religious one and to get help from France it was critical to get the Welsh clerics to break with their archbishop (Canterbury) who was allied to the English crown which was at war with France, which had rejected the elected a pope and established another (the Great Schism ). This involved Welsh clerics changing popes and being denounced as heretics by the English
crown's pope - many of them risked it, hoping that in return the French pope would grant Wales its own archbishopric. The inclination to do this may well have been down to propaganda by the Lollards, hedge priests who defied the pope and taught the people passages from the Bible in their native English and Welsh tongues. The penalty for heresy - if it was recanted - was apparently to have to wear a yellow cross prominently, sewn to both back and front of the clothes, they were about 9 by 12 inches. The monastic orders were in the forefront of the rebellion in the south, and many Lollards were friars who travelled about in black habits...these clerics would refuse to fight under the dragon symbol because it was demonic yet they did go into battle armed with clubs and for thought, and in 19th century Wales it is entirely possible that the increasingly high church Anglicans were seen to be the new Rome and the established church denounced non-conformist Welsh-speaking people as subversives in what was akin to an inquisition, the "treason of the blue books" affair which produced the fervent rise in defiant national pride. Did somebody invent the "flag of St. David" out of the heretic's cross, to subtly declare that Wales heretically embraced non-conformist Christianity ?
David Barry Lawrence, 7 March 2004

The Cross of St. David is increasingly being flown alongside the official flag of Wales, the Red Dragon here in Wales. I also saw the Cross of St. David being flown in Barcelona, Spain recently, alongside the Red Dragon and the Spanish flag, (for what reason I don't know, maybe a Welsh European trade convention perhaps?), it is also being being flown increasingly in all parts of Wales, in Cardiff city centre (in its natural form - not in its Cardiff City FC form which is only used in and around the football stadium), and has been recently mentioned on London-based UK television as the 'secondary "national" flag of Wales. Whether or not it is seen as a 'less nationalist' flag compared to the Red Dragon remains to be seen, but for now it is increasingly being accepted in Wales as the 'other' Welsh flag.
Leighton Smart, 16 July 2004

Display and use of this flag is now becoming more common, especially in the heavily welsh-speaking areas like Gwynedd and Ynys Mon (Anglesey), both in North West Wales. It is particularly prevalent during national and local elections in areas where Plaid Cymru (The Party Of Wales) have high voting support. In addition, in towns such as Llangefni the council fly it from nearly every building with the occasional Red Dragon but definitely no Union Jacks. It is now more associated amongst locals with the display of the on-going and increasing desire for total independence from the UK than for any historical reason, which is probably why use of it is fairly common in this part of Wales
Andy Williams, Anglesey, 5 June 2005

I've just been watching highlights of a recent rugby match between Wales and Canada. Both teams' normal uniforms are red jerseys with white shores, so
both wore their reserve strips to avoid any clash. Wales's reserve strip came as a surprise. Previously, I have seen them wear a reserve strip of green with red collar and white shorts, but on this occasion they were wearing golden yellow jerseys and black shorts, and on the right sleeve, close to the shoulder, was the unmistakable symbol of the St. David's cross. This can clearly be seen in the picture at the top of
James Dignan, 18 November 2008

In 2006, the first team strip of the Welsh RL side, Celtic Crusaders, was black with a large yellow cross, as for example at The club badge has a knight with the same cross on his shield. The 2009 strip is black with yellow highlights, but the change strip is red with white highlights and a green dragon. See
Ian Sumner, 18 November 2008

A clearly newly manufactured St David's Flag is hanging from outside the Town Hall in Naas, Co Kildare, Ireland. It is the first time that the black-and-yellow flag has been seen flying outside the Town Hall of Naas since Naas twinned with St David's Pembrokeshire in 1991. A rugby team from St David's is currently visiting Naas and this presumably explains the flag. There have been such visits in previous years and the "Dragon" was displayed. It is displayed on this occasion also hanging side by side from the balcony with the "yellow on black" flag and a flag with the municipal seal of Naas, the enigmatic serpent on a blue-and-white background.
Liam Kenny, 22 October 2012

History of the Flag

Extracted from a letter to Charles E.F.Ashburner
From William Crampton

In 1919 the Church of England lost its Welsh department when the church was disestablished in Wales and its endowments were cancelled. This followed a long period of agitation, led, among others, by the Prime Minister, David Lloyd-George1, fuelled by the fact that only a tiny percentage of the Welsh population were active members of the Anglican church. The Church was replaced in 1920 by a body called the Church in Wales (not of Wales) with a status of an autonomous province in communion with' the Church of England. The Church has its own Archbishop elected from among the six bishops, who keeps his own diocese. The Church is now entirely independent of any kind of patronage, and recently demonstrated its individuality by refusing to accept women priests.

In England the Church had always been associated with St George, the patron saint of England and of the Order of the Garter, and the practice had grown up of flying the flag of St George on churches, which were often the only places in rural localities that had flag-poles. It seems that as early as 1930 the practice also arose of adding the shield of the diocese to the canton of the flag2. This practice was regularised by a Warrant of the Earl Marshal dated 9 February 1938 which also had the effect of compelling churches to use this kind of flag, rather than the plain cross of St George3. No more need be said about this at this time, as the related issue of flags for Anglican Churches is dealt with in a parallel memorandum.

However when the Church of England ruling became common knowledge in Wales some people began to agitate for a similar flag usage based on the patronage of St David. At a meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales in 1939 it was suggested that a flag should be made by reversing the colours of the armorial banner of the see of St David. The armorial banner of the arms of St David's would be a black flag with a yellow cross bearing five black cinquefoils. The The reverse of this would of course be a yellow flag with a black cross and yellow cinquefoils. Why it was felt that the colours should be reversed was not explained. It was soon suggested that the cinquefoils should be omitted, to create a flag to be known as the Cross of St David. A 'Bridgend man' is credited with making this change, and the flag was then reported to be used at St Athan, at Llanilltyd Fawr (Llantwit Major) and at a Miners' Welfare Camp somewhere in the Vale of Glamorgan. Writing some years later in Flags of the World, H. Gresham Carr reported4 that "Many churches in Wales flew a very beautiful, though unofficial, a flag from about 1936 until the end of 1954. It consisted of a black cross on a golden field and is said to have been taken from the arms of the manors of Llawhaden and Pebidiog5 (anciently known as Dewisland), of which the early Bishops of St David's were barons.6' Why he could have described as beautiful' a black cross on yellow, but it is interesting to note among all this the association of the flag with the Church in Wales. St David's (Ty Ddewi, or in Latin Menevia, from which modern Welsh Mynwy) became a bishopric in the modern sense in 1115 under the Normans, dependant upon Canterbury. David was canonised in 1120; his saint's day is 1 March, the Welsh national holiday.

Thus matters rested until 1952 when the issue of an official flag for the church in Wales came to the fore again. A meeting of the Governing Body in that year decided to take no action, but in April 1954 a motion from the Archbishop to empower the bench of Bishops to approve a design was passed by the Governing Body acquired in session at Llandrindod Wells. In negotiations with the College of Arms the Governing Body acquired in practice a coat of arms, which could, like all armorial bearings, be made into a banner or a flag. The arms were white with a blue cross throughout charged in the centre with a Celtic Cross in gold. This was granted on 9 December 1954. Since that time churches in all six dioceses have used the shield as an emblem on their notice boards, and the flag (or armorial banner) has begun to fly from the towers of all these churches. There is no doubt that it is a very handsome flag, especially when not made in the crippling proportions 1:2.

Thus the Church in Wales did not go down the same road as the Church of England in having a separate flag for every diocese (although the separate nature of these flags can only be discerned by those with superhuman vision). Although each of the six dioceses (Bangor, Llandaff, Monmouth, St Asaph, St David's, Swansea and Brecon) has a coat of arms, these are not used on their churches. Armorial banners of these arms could be used by the Bishops and on diocesan property.

In the meantime, despite the assertions of H. Gresham Carr, the Cross of St David did not go out of fashion, but by a strange and ironic transposition, became a yellow cross on black. When this change took place is not known, but the black form of the flag has been used for at least two decades, and this is the form now offered by contemporary manufacturers. It is not now in any way connected with the Welsh Church. This was established in correspondence between the Flag Institute and the Church in 19787. The Representative Body passed on our enquiry to Francis Jones, at that time Wales Herald Extraordinary (given this appointment at the time of the Prince of Wales's investiture in 1969). Mr. Jones repudiated any flag attributed to our patron saint'. Mr. Jones also repudiated the assertion by Carr that the arms of St David's derived from those of Llawhaden and Pebidiog. These are part of the temporalities' of the see and certainly never had separate arms' or flag."

What then is the use of this flag today? The only answer we can offer is that it is popular with English people in Wales as an alternative to the Red Dragon. It is often not known by people outside the British Isles that only part of the Welsh population are truly Welsh in the sense of having Welsh Ancestors and being familiar with the Welsh language. In 1991 only 18.7% of the residents were able to speak Welsh and they are often concentrated into specific areas (eg 61% of the  population of Gwynedd are Welsh speakers). The others are English settlers and retirees or owners of holiday homes. There is therefore a space for a flag to commemorate St David, patron of the land, but does not reflect true Welshness as does the Ddraig Goch, and which would also be useful for Anglicans in that it consists of a Welsh version of the Cross of St George.

The Cross of St David has also become an established flag for representing Wales outside Wales, and I once saw it flying alongside the Cross of St George, the Saltire, and the Cross of St Patrick Ireland?) in a row outside Ludlow Castle.

As a footnote I might mention that I once saw a flag flying at a place called Afonwen near Mold which was the true banner of the diocese of St David's although the cinquefoils had become transmuted into squiggles more like grenades. The flag flew alongside the Red Dragon and the Union Jack. Afonwen is in the diocese of St Asaph, so it looks as if even the banner of St David's has become detached from its native diocese.

1. Lloyd George had come to local prominence in the 1880s by his resistance to Anglican control of schools, and the famous Llanfrothen Burial Case, in which the Anglican church refused burial to a local Baptist. Elected to Parliament in 1890 he became Prime Minister in 1916 but was forced to resign in 1922.

2. In an article in The Coat of Arms in 1956 (reproduced from The Anglican) Mr R.L.Gair attributed this fact to Col. H C B Roger's The Pageant of Heraldry.

3. Air (op. cit.) quotes the wording, as did a Mr T Barfett in a letter to The Times on 4 March 1969. The relevant phrase reads proper to be flown' (on a church).

4. All his from an article by CL Ross Thomas in the September 1939 number of The Mariner's Mirror.

5. The place names Llawhaden and Pebidiog do not appear on the modern map (but see reference to Francis Jones infra). Dewisland presumably means the area around St David's.

6. In the Celtic church a bishop was attached to a King rather than to a place. Dewi Sant appears to have been bishop to the ruler of Ceredigion (Cardigan).

7. A letter from Francis Jones to the secretary of the Representative Body, 9 March 1978.

About St. David

[Note: this was originally written for an Anglican audience. There was no intention to offend or exclude people of other faiths, merely to inform people within a particular church context. An updated version of this article can be found at the Saints and Seasons webpage.]

Dewi and Pelagius

Picture for yourself a post-colonial nation, part of a great empire for a few hundred years but then abandoned to its own devices. Heathen savages then invaded the land and drove the Christian inhabitants to a small corner, where they were better able to defend themselves because of the mountainous terrain. Meanwhile the Church itself was in danger of self-destructing because of an insidious teaching, the brainchild of a native son of the land.

No, this is not Africa, America or Asia in the 20th or 21st century - although the pattern might perhaps be repeated there. This is Britain in the 6th century AD, beset by German invaders from across the North Sea. The Romanised Britons had been driven westward and were to be found in Clydeside, Galloway and Cumbria in the north, in Wales, and in Cornwall, from where large numbers had also fled to Brittany, or Little Britain. The insidious teaching was the work of one Pelagius, who had questioned the Church's doctrine of original sin and denied that sin is the result of human weakness. In a seemingly modern way, he taught that God made human beings free to choose between good and evil. Pelagius, who was born around 354 - probably in Britain, although the evidence is uncertain - was concerned with slack moral standards among Christians and hoped to improve their conduct. The great flaw in Pelagius's teaching, as Augustine of Hippo pointed out, was the idea that people could attain righteousness by their own efforts. Man, said Augustine, was totally dependent on God for salvation. Although Pelagianism was condemned at several general Church councils during the 5th century, it survived in a few odd corners of the Roman world, and Wales was one of them.

Around the year 520 a boy was born to a saintly woman called Non, the victim of rape by a chieftain named Sant. The boy was baptised Dewi, the British form of the name of Israel's greatest warrior king, the shepherd boy Dawid or David. (The name means "beloved".)

Very little is known for certain about Dewi, or Dafydd(1) (the Welsh nickname Taffy comes from this form). It is believed he was born near St Bride's Bay in the far south-west of Wales and educated at Henfynyw. He then is said to have spent 10 years on an island, studying the Scriptures under St Paulinus, after which he founded 10 monasteries. He made his home at Mynyw, or Menevia, on St Bride's Bay.

An austere man, he taught his monks to observe a life of hard physical labour on a diet of bread, vegetables and water, and is known by the nickname of Aquaticus, apparently because he forbade all liquor and permitted only water or milk at his monasteries. Summoned to the synod of Brevi (or Llanddewi-Brefi), he reportedly refused to go and had to be fetched. Once there, he spoke eloquently against Pelagianism, and at the later Synod of Victory at Caerleon, presided over the defeat of Pelagianism. Some say he was elected bishop and afterwards archbishop for his arguments against Pelagianism. Certainly he held the see of Caerleon, based in a city that had once (under the name of Isca) been one of Britain's three legionary bases. (The others were Deva [Chester] and Eboracum [York].) But Caerleon(2) was dangerously close to the English, and David moved his see to Mynyw, which afterwards came to be called Ty-Dewi, or St David's.

He died aged around 80 - perhaps 601, perhaps 589 - and his last words are said to have been: "Be cheerful, brothers and sisters; keep the faith and observe exactly all the little things you have learned from me." Although David only travelled in South Wales and Cornwall (and perhaps also to Glastonbury) - there are more than 50 churches of St David in South Wales - he is the patron saint of all Wales. On St David's Day, 1 March, Welsh folk wear leeks or daffodils in his memory, although nobody could tell you why.

He is usually illustrated wearing episcopal vestments, and with a dove on his shoulder, symbolising his victory over Pelagianism.

(1) Say Dah-vith (with the 'th' voiced, as in 'the'). In Welsh, and the F is pronounced like a V.

(2) The city later fell to the English and became part of the English county of Monmouthshire. When regional administration was reorganised in 1974, Monmouthshire became the Welsh county of Gwent.

Mike Oettle, 23 January 2002

It is pointed out above that bishops were attached to kings in David's time, rather than to specific places. The sources from which I wrote my article clearly weren't aware of that, referring to his being bishop "of Caerleon". However, the area most associated with David is Mynyw (or Menevia), and it has been pointed out that there was no diocese there until the 12th century. In my article I wrote: "David moved his see to Mynyw, which afterwards came to be called Ty-Dewi, or St David's." This was a response to barbarian invasion, rather than the creation of a new territorial see (as has been pointed out, there were none in the Celtic Church). It also needs to be borne in mind that David was well established in Mynyw before he even became a bishop. So even though he was not the area's territorial bishop in the sense in which this would be understood today, the area was intimately his own.

Mike Oettle, 15 October 2002

The reason we Cymraeg (Welsh) wear leeks or daffodils has to do not with St. David but with a war against the English (I believe it was Owen Glendower vs. England).  Troops and sympathizers of the Welsh wore the national colour of Wales--green and white--and when that wasn't feasible (e.g., for soldiers in the field or for peasants) they would tie a leek or daffodil (a green stalk with a white bulb) on themselves to identify themselves to other Welsh folk so as not to be thought of as English invaders and avoid being killed. The tradition is still carried out on St David's day because he is the patron of the Welsh, not because he started the tradition.

Mark Davies, 21 September 2002

See also:

Use as a divisional formation sign

Sable a cross or was used as a formation sign for one of the Welsh divisions in the Second World War.
Tim Saunders
, 4 June 2003

That was the 38th Division. The formation sign of the other Welsh Division, the 53rd, was a red letter W on a horizontal line, with the triangle thus formed filled in.
David Prothero, 5 June 2003

Use of the flag by Cardiff City Football Club

Cardiff City Football Club is undergoing a contest to adopt a new crest, and one of the conditions is "must incorporate the St. Davidīs flag and the Bluebird"
See: Cardiff City FC website for the discussion.

Jose C. Alegria, 15 October 2002

They have this flag painted on to the roof of a stand at Ninian Park, where Cardiff City Football Club play. In the very centre of the flag is an emblem of a bluebird (being the nickname and badge of the team). Next to this cross is the Red Dragon . However I haven't seen it anywhere else in Wales other than in Cardiff.

Stephen Haynes, 26 October 2002