Pope Benedict XVI will bless a mosaic of St David with holy water from Wales during his visit to Westminster Cathedral next week.
He will sprinkle the mosaic with water from St Non’s well, a place of healing since the Middle Ages located on the wild cliffs of Pembrokeshire.
Canon Christopher Tuckwell, administrator of Westminster Cathedral, said it was part of the Holy Father’s “outreach to Wales and to the people of Wales”. The Pope is not able to visit Wales during his four-day trip.
The mosaic, which has only just been completed, was designed by Welsh artist Ivor Davies and made by Tessa Hunkin of London’s Mosaic Workshop.
Canon Tuckwell said he was “delighted” with it, and that from the first designs it was clearly something “new, fresh and alive”.
The mosaic depicts a youthful St David standing in a white robe against a dazzling background of gold, red and green.
Under his feet is a green orb that represents the moment when he was preaching at a synod and the ground rose up beneath him.
Mr Davies, at the suggestion of Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, obtained a dolerite stone from the part of Wales where the miracle is believed to have taken place and inserted it at the bottom of the mosaic.
He also gave St David what is thought to be the authentic Celtic tonsure – a triangular mohican that ends in a point at the front.
Mr Davies, an enthusiast for early Welsh history, said the project was “probably the most exciting thing I could imagine doing”. “I was absolutely thrilled to spend day and night researching it,” he said.
He presents the sixth-century saint with a dove on his shoulder, as is traditional, and a cup of water in his hand.
St David’s nickname, according to Mr Davies, was “David the Water Drinker”, in reference to his ascetic lifestyle. “He was very particular – he didn’t smoke or drink or anything else,” he explained. “He used to stand in quite cold water in the sea reading and reciting the scriptures.”
Tessa Hunkin, of London’s Mosaic Workshop, made the mosaic in just two months, sometimes working until midnight.
She had to place the pieces of gold on to a cement bed one by one so they would be uneven and would “glimmer and sparkle” in the light.
She said: “It’s lovely to be able to use all that gold. Some artists are a bit shy of gold – they think it looks a bit bling.”
Once the Pope has sprinkled the mosaic with holy water, he will bless and light a candle in the hand of Our Lady of Taper, a statue of Mary taken from the Welsh national shrine at Cardigan.
After that he will be addressed by Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham on behalf of Wales. The Pope may also speak in Welsh, though that has not been confirmed.