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Saturday, 7 January 2017

Saint Patrick


St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain c 387. His birthplace was somewhere along the west coast of Britain in the little settlement or village of Bannavem of Taburnia, which has never been identified with certainty.

Statue of St Patrick near Saul, Ireland Wikipedia

In his Confessions Patrick mentions his father Calpornius, a deacon, civil official, and a town councilor, who had a farm by the sea. His grandfather was Potitus, a Romano-British priest.

An old tradition makes Patrick's mother from the upper-class Gaulish family of Martin of Tours, though Patrick himself makes no such claim.

Patrick's real name was probably Maewyn Succat. The only name that he uses for himself in his own writings is Pātricius.


At the age of 16, Patrick was carried off by pirates from the western coast of Wales to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. His parents were killed by the same barbarians who took Patrick captive.

While in captivity, Saint Patrick worked as a herdsmen of sheep and pigs on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim. His sole companion was a dog.

Slemish, County Antrim, traditionally associated with Saint Patrick's time as a shepherd slave.

Patrick considered his kidnapping and slavedom as a punishment for his lack of faith and he turned to God and became a man of deep prayer.

After six years of captivity Patrick heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home. Fleeing his master, he traveled to a port, two hundred miles away, where he found a ship with a cargo of hunting hounds travelling to Gaul. Patrick had no money to pay his passage, so was originally received rather unsympathetically, but once the captain noted the calming effect the runaway slave had on the dogs, he was allowed on board and put in charge of the hounds.


Having escaped slavedom, Patrick entered a monastery in Auxerre, Gaul to start training for the priesthood. He refers to himself in Confessions as badly educated and indeed his Latin was poor.

Though he studied principally at Auxerre, Patrick is thought to have visited the Marmoutier Abbey, Tours and to have received the tonsure at Lérins Abbey. Saint Germanus of Auxerre ordained the young missionary.


In 432 Patrick was called in a dream to return to Ireland. During his vision, the babies of the Emerald Isle pleaded with him to return to their land and tell them about Christ. There were already some Christians in Ireland but Patrick hoped to bring about a mass acceptance and an organized church.

When St Patrick landed in Wicklow Town, the villagers greeted him by throwing stones. He was forced to leave to seek a more welcoming landing place further north.

Patrick decided to sail up the coast to county Antrim, where, as a young man, he’d tended flocks on the mountain. However strong currents swept his boat from the harrows at Strangford in County Down and he landed where the river flows into Strangford Lough, near Downpatrick.

Patrick's strategy was to become a Christian druid to the Irish druids. In order to demonstrate the power of God he planned to preach a Gospel of power to the magician druids who performed human sacrifices and worshiped spirits in the hills as well as natural elements. Patrick took them on in Elijah-like contests to demonstrate the power of God.

Patrick confronted the High King Laoghaire and his Druid priests at Tara, the political center of the Kingdom, on the eve of Easter 433. At Tara, Patrick defied the Druid law and kindled his famous Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane, not far from Dublin. The fire could not be doused by anyone but Patrick, which silenced the Druids and enabled him to gain a hearing.

St. Patrick explained the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the Irish people by showing people the shamrock. He used the three-leafed plant to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God. The shamrock has since become a central symbol for St Patrick's Day.

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Kilbennan. By Andreas F. Borchert, 

In 441 Patrick spent 40 days in retreat on the Crough Patrick Mountain, fasting and praying with tears that Ireland might be delivered from the hands of the pagans. Every night an angel appeared to him with more and more promises from God arising from his prayers. Patrick stubbornly refused to leave the mountain until all his prayers were answered including that at the last judgement Patrick himself should be appointed to pronounce judgement on the Irish people. Finally he was assured by the angel that all his prayers had been heard and he descended the mountain pausing only to preach a sermon in which he cast the snakes (meaning the serpent symbolism of the Irish pagans) out of Ireland.

Image of St. Patrick banishing the snakes

The Purgatory of St Patrick is a great subterranean cave situated on Station Island in Lough Derg Dergh in Ulster, where the saint used to meditate on the judgement of God.

Since Patrick's death it has been a place of pilgrimage. The importance of The Purgatory of St Patrick in medieval times is illustrated by the fact that it is the only Irish site designated on Martin Behaim's world map of 1492. The cave has been closed since October 25, 1632, when the monastery on the island was dissolved.

Photo below the chapel and bell tower on Station Island. The bell tower stands on a mound that is the site of the original cave.

Chapel and bell tower on Station Island By Egardiner0 

After a dozen years of spreading the gospel in Ireland Patrick built a church in Armagh, an area which Dichu, a down chief, had given him. By establishing his headquarters in Armagh, Patrick marked the community's emergence as the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland with him becoming the first bishop of Armagh.

Armagh is today the primary seat of both the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland, and both cathedrals in the town are named after Patrick.


According to legend, when St Patrick was fresh to Ireland he was visited by two angels who told him he should record the pagan songs and rescue them from oblivion. Other Irish Monks did this along with Patrick and the Irish literary tradition was preserved.

In the Confession of St Patrick, he reviews his life and work and his sense of calling. The work was written in rude Latin and is considered genuine though with some later alteration to conform to the legend of St Patrick.

The only other surviving work of Patrick’s is his letter to Coroticus, a chieftain of an Irish tribe where he denounces an attack by Coroticus’ men on one of his congregation.


Patrick was walking along the shores of Lough Neagh when accosted by a tearful St Bridget. Her nuns had mutinied as they weren't allowed to propose marriage. St Patrick offered to allow them to do so every seven years. Bridget negotiated him down to one year in four-leap year. The happy Bridget then proposed to Patrick who solved the problem by giving her a kiss and a silk gown instead. Thus he initiated the custom for women proposing marriage on February 29 and receiving a silk gown if turned down.

Saint Patrick himself may have studied alongside Egyptian monks in Gaul. There is a legend that he learnt from them the process of distillation and taught the Irish the process of distilling cereals to make a cheering, warming drink.


A variety of dates are given for Sr Patrick's death. It is likely to have been either 461 when the annals say that "Here some record the repose of Patrick or in 492/3 where they record the death of "Patrick, the arch-apostle (or archbishop and apostle) of the Scoti", on March 17, at the age of 120.

Saint Patrick was reputedly buried on Cathedral Hill, Downpatrick together with Saint Brigit and some relics of Saint Columba. Down Cathedral was later constructed on this spot. His grave is still a place of pilgrimage on St Patrick's Day

Reputed grave of St. Patrick in Downpatrick


Saint Patrick is widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today. March 17 is believed to be his death date and is the date celebrated as his Feast Day. He is the patron saint of Ireland.

March 17 became a feast day in the Catholic Church through the efforts of the Irish Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the seventeenth century.

The first St. Patrick's Day celebration was held in America on March 17, 1737 by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston.

The Saint Patrick Visitor Centre in Downpatrick is purpose-built to tell the story of the Irish patron saint. It is the only permanent exhibition in the world dedicated to Saint Patrick.

Sources The Independent,

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