In chapter 45 of his Life of St David, (c 1081-1095), Rhygyfarch tells us that St David visited the Patriarch of Jerusalem with St Teilo and St Padarn. St David returned with a portable altar, a bell, a staff and a coat, gifts which according to Rhygyfarch worked great miracles. The historical veracity of this tradition has often been contested but its spiritual significance points us back to so much more than a mediaeval legend of a Welsh Arcbishopric’s foundation in sixth century Jerusalem. The Holy City was home to the first temple of the Davidic Kings, home also to the Holy of Holies and King Solomon’s Song of Songs. St David’s four gifts were significant for their temple symbolism, the altar for its connection to the mysteries of union later fulfilled in the Eucharist, the bell for its resonant call to the prayer of the heart, the staff for its connection to pilgrimage and the Holy Way and the coat for its wedding garment symbolism communicating glorification. The Welsh Archbishopric was decisively crushed by the Normans but the spiritual radiance of David’s altar, bell, staff and garment from Jerusalem continue to resonate down the centuries to this very day.
The altar points to the heart where God unveils his glory to wisdom and opens to the sacred mysteries of union. The bell points to the call to prayer that awakens the heart to illumination and glorification. The staff points to the spiritual journey of the Way, the practice of turning that reveals God in the midst and the practice of contemplative vision that sees God in everything and everything in God. The coat refers to the wedding garment of glory conferred by God on the glorified, hallowing holy elders so that with every breath they conspire to inspire the saints. The sacred temple symbolism of the Song of Songs bears witness to spiritual marriage, where union with God in the Holy of Holies glorifies the saints. The altar, bell, staff and garment all bear witness to the overflowing grace of temple symbolism, gifts from the Patriarch of Jerusalem to three Welsh saints, David, Teilo and Padarn, gifts which have lost none of their hallowing significance or transformative energy, even in our very secular age.
Traces of these spiritual gifts are still to be found hidden beneath the surface of Rhygyfarch’s Life of St David, if devotion to the saint is prepared to transcend pious sentiment. The practice of turning and seeing opens wisdom to glory in ways that resonate with the hallowing gifts which St David brought back from Jerusalem. When the heart is once again an altar of God and the bell’s call to unceasing prayer is heard, the staff of wisdom’s Way is embraced and the garment of glory is discerned. Perhaps David was never caught up in the episcopal game of thrones that preoccupied Rhygyfarch in eleventh century Wales but leaves instead a legacy of Jerusalem temple mysteries that heals and sanctifies hearts in every age. If we are prepared to listen to what the mediaeval legends both remember and conceal, we might begin to hear again the mysteries of wisdom and glory that inspire saints like David in any age. The altar embraces divine-human mysteries of union and communion. The bell recalls us to the prayer of the Holy Spirit in the heart. The staff inspires us to follow the Way of wisdom that awakens to God in all and all in God. The garment of glory clads God’s own in a raiment of uncreated light that transfigures all in the Name. Glory restores all when heaven weds earth and earth weds heaven, Jerusalem’s perennial gift to the ancient Cathedral City of Saint David, a gift that wisdom pours out on us all, leaving no stone unturned.