St David's Day Songs of Praise


St David's Day

Aled Jones visits St Davids in Pembrokeshire to discover how the city is celebrating Wales's patron saint. With hymns and music from Rhys Meirion and Sound of Wales.


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This coming Friday, at midday,

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a shaft of sunshine will shine through this rock here

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and light up this special stone,

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dedicated to Wales' patron saint, Dewi Sant, on his saint's day.

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But as the whole of Wales prepares to honour the great man,

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I've come to St Davids, his birthplace,

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for this week's Songs Of Praise.

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So, this week, some wonderful Welsh hymn singing...

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St David's Cathedral reveals its secrets...

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One man's journey to finding faith...

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and special guest, Welsh tenor, Rhys Meirion.

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On Friday, the cathedral bells will ring out to celebrate St David's Day.

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The bells are named after saints associated with Wales,

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with the biggest one bearing the name of St David himself.

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They're too heavy for the cathedral tower so, unusually,

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they're housed here at the gatehouse - Porth-y-Twr, it's called in Welsh.

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This is where you get the first glimpse of that magnificent building.

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All our music comes from St David's Cathedral

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and we begin with a hymn that pays tribute to all the nations' saints.

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Known in Welsh as Tyddewi, St David's is a picturesque coastal location

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with a population of just over 1,500 people.

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Yet it's a city with one of the UK's most beautiful cathedrals,

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so I'm off for a look around.

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-How nice to see you.

-You too, Aled.

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When you come to this rural part of Wales,

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-you don't really expect this cathedral to be waiting for you.

-Not at all.

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Here it is, nestled in the valley, this huge building,

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and it's a remarkable building because it's built on a sloping site.

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-I was about to say.

-It's amazing, isn't it?

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It's really quite a pull up the nave.

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If you notice, the arcades are just slightly leaning out, as well.

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I wish you hadn't told me that - they are, aren't they?

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Well, they are but it's stood for 800 years

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so I think we're quite safe.

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Phew!

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-I've spent hours in choir stalls.

-Yes, so have I.

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Fair point, probably longer than me!

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Why have you brought me to yours, what is so special about these?

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-Well, we have a stall for the Queen.

-Goodness me.

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The Queen is a canon of the Cathedral and that is absolutely unique.

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Has she ever been?

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She has visited St Davids four times and she sat in that seat.

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I half expect there to be padding on the Queen's seat.

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These seats are quite unusual because they are seats,

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but then if you lift them up, they've got this little ledge.

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These are misericords,

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and the word "misericord" is actually Latin for mercy seat.

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If you're in the choir for a long time,

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reciting the Office or Psalms or whatever,

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you have the opportunity to just rest

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and give the appearance that you're actually standing.

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I quite often sing with the choir, actually,

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but when I have occasion to sit in my own stall

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and allow all of it to wash over me, it is the most amazing experience.

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You just feel that there is a sense of God

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when you are in the middle of a glorious act of worship.

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Can I let you into a little secret?

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-It feels like that when you're a choir boy, as well!

-Good.

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We're heading now into the presbytery,

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and to the newly restored shrine of St David,

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which was only dedicated last St David's Day.

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St David's has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries

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and pilgrims still come,

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but there didn't seem to be a final sort of destination and now this is the destination.

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So here we are, celebrating our patron saint, St David, on Friday.

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Is that man relevant in this day and age?

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I think he is, I think part of the reason for installing the shrine

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is because of David's life and witness

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and the cult of St David has remained strong through the centuries,

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and I think his final words to his followers,

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"Be joyful, keep the faith, do the little things you've heard and seen me do"

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still resonate with people today.

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This is probably one of your most special places?

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I think so because this has been my vision,

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and part of the vision is turning visitors into pilgrims,

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and I think now that we have this focus in the building,

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I hope that people will go away with something special

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when they visit this place.

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St David's Day is the perfect opportunity for us Welsh to celebrate.

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As a nation, we love our emblems, this being one of them, the leek.

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Legend has it that it was St David himself

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that suggested to soldiers that they should wear a leek on their helmet

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to distinguish between friend and foe during battle.

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Even to this day, some Welsh love to wear their leek with pride on St David's Day.

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But many of us prefer wearing Cenhinen Bedr, or Peter's Leek,

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another of our national emblems, also known of course as the daffodil.

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Here's some I picked earlier!

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The daffodil is special because it is the sunshine,

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it is the first real flower that comes out with this gold,

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warm colour after the dark, dreary winter.

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So it is the first sign of spring.

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You have snowdrops, but snowdrops are still cold and small.

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You have this big blaze of colour with the daff

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and that shows that summer is just around the corner.

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I think the special thing about daffodils

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is that there's always some activity in the bulb,

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right from the time that we plant the bulb in September.

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The bulb itself is developing the flower inside.

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You can dissect a bulb in September

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and find inside your earliest first daffodil, completely formed.

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That's a miracle, that really is, it's absolutely wonderful.

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As part of the St David's Day celebrations in St Davids,

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local school children take part in a dragon parade through the city.

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The pupils of Ysgol Bro Dewi are getting ready

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for this year's parade.

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I'm making a mask for the St David's Day parade.

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I'm making the eyes, the nostrils and the fire that it breathes out.

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It's a girly dragon. It's like, really cool.

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This year, the children are all going to be individual dragons

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as part of a big dragon procession.

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The parade is an opportunity for the children to learn more

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about their patron saint.

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It's about celebrating St David and the people around him.

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We celebrate St David for the good things that he's done.

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He did a miracle.

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He put a handkerchief on the ground because nobody could hear him

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when he was preaching and then the ground rose and he stood on it

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so that everyone could hear him and see him.

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St David's Day in St Davids is very special.

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Obviously, we've got the cathedral here and the birthplace of St David.

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It's a very, very good connection to have with Welsh history

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and Welsh culture, and just the feeling that we have

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of being in a very special place in this part of Wales.

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# For Wales our land

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# Oh Father hear our prayer

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# This blessed vinyard

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# Granted to our care

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# May you protect

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# Her always faithfully

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# And prosper in

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# All truth and purity

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# For your son seek

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# Who bought us with his blood

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# And make our Wales

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# In your own image, Lord

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# Oh come the day

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# When over our barren land

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# Reviving winds

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# Blow sent from God's own hand

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# As grace pours down

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# On parched and arid land

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# We will bear fruit

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# For Christ by his command

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# Come with one voice

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# And gently see

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# The virtues of

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# A gentle land and he. #

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I was brought up as an Anglican,

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but as a teenager drifted away from the church.

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I think I would have described myself as certainly agnostic,

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if not an atheist.

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I regarded religion and Christianity, in particular,

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and the church as a sort of anachronism.

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As a historical leftover of some kind.

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But a holiday to St Davids at the age of 18

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was to challenge Patrick's personal beliefs.

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One day, when I was wandering along the cliff path,

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I had an extraordinary experience of what I can only describe

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as the reality of God in the world around me.

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Perhaps it was the atmosphere around about,

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the butterflies rising up,

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the fact that the place itself was connected

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with so many centuries of prayer,

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that somehow it began to have an effect on me.

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But I wasn't quite sure what to make of that at the time.

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I was left feeling slightly confused.

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A year later, Patrick, with a growing faith,

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was beginning to see things more clearly.

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I began to realise that I seemed to have this calling.

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I decided to work out whether I had a vocation to the priesthood or not.

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So I walked and hitchhiked all the way from Shrewsbury to St Davids

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and ended up in the St Thomas Chapel here,

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and realised as I was kneeling in front of the altar

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that I had to dedicate my life in that way.

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And I was ordained here in St Davids Cathedral,

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which was something that was completely unexpected.

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So I think it was a rather peculiar pilgrimage.

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St Davids has a special place in my life

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because it was the place where I discovered my vocation,

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and it's also a place where I find it perhaps easy to pray, as well.

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A place where there is this very special atmosphere.

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It is a place, to use TS Eliot's phrase,

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a place where prayer has been valid and where prayer still is valid.

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And that, to me, is quite wonderful.

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May God, who kindled the fire of his love in the heart of St David

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and all the saints, pour upon you the riches of his grace.

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ALL: Amen.

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May the God of truth give you grace to follow St David

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who brought the light of Christ to this nation

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and taught his followers to be joyful, keeping the faith

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and doing the little things that he did.

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ALL: Amen.

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And the blessing of God Almighty, the father,

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the son and the holy spirit be with you and remain with you always.

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ALL: Amen.

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# Bring me my harp

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# Was David's sad sigh

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# I would play one more tune

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# Before I die

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# Help me, dear wife

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# Put he hands to the strings

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# I wish my loved ones

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# The blessing God brings

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# Last night an angel

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# Called with heaven's breath

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# David, play

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# And come through the gates of death

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# Farewell faithful harp

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# Farewell to your strings

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# I wish my loved ones

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# The blessing God brings. #

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Our final hymn is a personal favourite,

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and I guarantee it will be sung throughout Wales on Friday.

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Happy St David's Day to you when it comes.

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Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus iawn i chi gyd.

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And in the words of my patron saints,

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may you be joyful and keep the faith.

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Next week, to mark the 25th anniversary

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of Comic Relief's Red Nose Day, I'll meet comedian Tim Vine

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to help launch our very own hymn-singing fund-raiser,

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as well as the queen of baking, Mary Berry,

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who faces a cooking challenge for those without a kitchen.

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And there'll be some great hymns to get you singing from around the UK.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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Aled Jones visits St Davids in Pembrokeshire to discover how the city is celebrating the patron saint of Wales, takes a look around the fascinating cathedral and introduces wonderful hymn singing and music from tenor Rhys Meirion and Sound of Wales.


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