Saint David and Paulinus
There I was at last - standing in St David’s Cathedral. How I’d looked forward to that moment. For years I’d promised myself I’d go there. The cathedral is a long way from where I live, but I was glad I’d made the journey. Immediately I felt a kind of peaceful happiness there. It’s a truly special place – a holy place. Many other people think so too – not just monks like me. For hundreds of years pilgrims have travelled to St David’s Cathedral – ordinary people as well as monks and priests. Once they had to come by sea. Now they come by road. To think about a special person and remember his life – St David, or Dewi Sant, as he is known in the Welsh language.
The cathedral stands on the site of an old monastery – that’s a building where monks live and pray and work. And it was in this monastery that – well over a thousand years ago - St David lived and prayed and worked.
There are many extraordinary stories told about St David. We can’t say if they’re all true of course - for it was only long after David’s death that they were written down. But I’ll tell you one of them. It is my favourite – about something very special David did to help his teacher.
The story begins in a monastery where David was learning to be a monk. It was a very simple place made of wood with walls made of sticks, plastered with mud. A roof of straw or rushes kept out the rain. It wasn't at all like the grand cathedral we have today, made of stone. Around the monastery were other simple buildings where the monks ate, studied, and slept.
In one of these buildings young David sat and listened to the wise words of his tutor, called Paulinus. David had always wanted to be a monk. David’s teacher, Paulinus, was a wise man and good man, a holy man. He loved to listen while the monks sang prayers, but he was old, and his sight was growing dim. He felt sad as he peered at the Bible. He could barely make out the letters. How could he teach his pupils if he could no longer see to read? And in those days there was little light to help you see - just a few rush lights or candles and spectacles hadn’t even been invented!
As the days passed Paulinus found it harder and harder to see anything at all. Everything was growing dim and dark for him. Now, even on the sunniest days he had to feel his way along, using his hands to guide him. He would touch the walls to find his way around the buildings, and to his seat in front of his class.
The monks would help him too. He who had helped and guided many young monks now needed their help to guide him.
David sat in front of the elderly monk, listening to him struggle to read the words in the great Bible in front of him. He felt so sorry for him. ‘If only I could help him see clearly again,’ he thought. But what could he do?
Paulinus would look at the young monk and smile. He already knew that David was a special person. And then early one morning Paulinus woke and found that he could see nothing at all. He was entirely blind. How he wept. He fell to his knees by his bed, and prayed. ‘God. Hear my prayer. Restore my sight so that I may continue to serve you and do your work. I have guided many young monks. I have tried my best to prepare them to do your work too. May they now help me? Let your holy spirit enter them, so that the touch of their hands on my eyes will restore my sight.’
That morning, as the young monks filed in to the room, Paulinus told them what had happened. How sad the monks were when they heard what he said. ‘I pray that by touching my eyelids one of you will be able to restore my sight,’ Paulinus said.
So one by one the monks came forward and gently laid their fingers on their beloved teacher’s closed eyes. How eager they were to help restore their teacher’s sight. How sad they were when he opened his eyes and they saw that he still could not see.
At last it was David’s turn. He had held back to the end, certain that he could not do what others could not. Shyly he came forward, making the sign of the cross as he touched his tutor’s eyelids. Paulinus could not see the young monk, but he knew that it was David who now stood before him...David who prayed so hard for his sight to be restored...David who touched his eyelids so gently. ‘If anyone can heal my poor eyes, it is David,’ thought Paulinus. He remembered a story he had been told about David. How, when David was still a young boy, a white dove had settled at his shoulder while he studied. Was that not a sign that David was special..?
Gently David took his hands away from his teacher’s face and slowly Paulinus opened his eyes. A joyful smile spread across his face. He could see! How startled the monks were! How happy David was! Paulinus thanked God for sending him the young monk, David. But, in a way, he felt sad too. He was sure that soon David would leave the monastery. What more could he, Paulinus, teach him? David must go out into the world and do God’s work...