|Painting of St Patrick|
Much controversy surrounds the details of St. Patrick's life. He is believed to have been British by birth, the son of a decurio or town councillor. His place of birth is said to have been somewhere in the west between the mouth of the Severn and the Clyde. He was born sometime between 385 and 389. Patrick himself tells us he was of Romano-British origin. The names of his parents were Calpurnius and Concessa.
While still a youth he was captured by Irish pirates and reduced to slavery. For six years he herded swine or sheep probably in Co. Antrim or on the coast of Co. Mayo. During the period of Patrick's captivity in Ireland he learned the native language and also got to know the pagan practices of the Druid priests.
Obeying a vision telling him to escape, he travelled two hundred miles to reach a ship he had been told to join. At first he was refused permission to travel but the master later rescinded. They sailed for three days landing, it is believed, on the coast of Gaul. Although Patrick eventually returned to his family he was constantly troubled by visions of the pagan Irish imploring him to walk among them once more.
Patrick was still a layman and, therefore, he could not go to Ireland without the priestly power to bring the sacraments. He set out for Rome but apparently never reached his intended destination. He broke his journey at Auxerre, attracted by the personality of its bishop, St. Amator. Under the guidance of St.Germanus he studied texts of the New and Old Testaments.
In 430, St. Germanus and St. Lupus of Troyes were chosen to travel to Britain. Some considered Patrick to be too lacking in learning and sophistication ignoring his wide practical experience of Ireland, his knowledge of its people and the pagan religion they practised. Pope Celestine selected Palladius instead for this important task. Patrick, however, never lost sight of his mission. Within a year Palladius died in the mission field and Pope Celestine authorised that Patrick be ordained bishop.
Patrick knew very well that if he was to succeed in Ireland then he must first convert the kings and chieftains. Otherwise, the people would not be allowed to worship in peace. It is said that Patrick's entourage resembled that of a modern day papal visit. He faced many dangers including assassination and the military might of kings and opposition of the powerful druids whose very existence he threatened.
|Stone Cross - Cloonshanville,|
It was the Chieftain Dichu who gave Patrick a plot of land on which to build his first church in Co. Down. St. Patrick spent many years in Ireland although exactly how long we do not know. During this time, he travelled extensively. He writes:
‘I journeyed among you, and everywhere, for your sake, often in danger, even to the outermost parts beyond which there is nothing, places where no one had ever arrived to baptise or ordain clergy or confirm the people.’
In some respects the nature of the Celtic religion helped in the development of Christianity. Their belief in the indestructibility of the souls of the dead helped in understanding the resurrection of Christ. The Celts also had their own sacrifices and ritual meals which, in a sense, mirrored aspects of Christian message.
Patrick did not discourage the druids from retaining their positions as lawyers, doctors, poets and musicians. Some writers have referred to a prophecy held by the Celts of
"...a man who was to come with a wedge-shaped head and shepherd's crook, his altar in the east of his house, who would encourage the people to cry "AMEN" to his call to worship."
Patrick had many followers. Benignus, the son of a chieftain, became his successor. Others were St.Auxilius, St.Iserninus and St.Fiacc, the son of Chief Brehom. His followers also included many influential women such as queens and the wives of Chieftains. Slave girls too, were prepared to suffer at the hands of their pagan masters for their faith.
At times he found it difficult to obtain suitable candidates. On one particular occasion he sent a plea to a friend asking him to recommend someone "preferably celibate but at least having only one wife and one child, and of sufficient wealth not to be tempted to line his pockets with bribes." His friend could only find one suitable candidate!
Patrick lit the paschal fire at Easter, which happened that year to coincide with the Feast of Tara. It was forbidden to kindle fire before Tara and the penalty for disobedience was death. Patrick's fire lit up the whole of Mag Breg, and the druids foretold that unless it was quenched the same night it would burn till Doomsday. Patrick reached agreement with the Druids for the teaching of Christianity which was to eventually replace paganism.
Patrick spent forty days and nights fasting on the top of Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a church/oratory dating from the early Christian period on the top of this mountain. The entire summit was enclosed by a stone wall which may have been the enclosing wall of an early monastic site.
We are told that when the shadow of death came near, Patrick returned to the first church he had built at Soul, Co. Down and died on March 17th, 461. There is, however, some uncertainty as to the actual year of his death.
Legend has it that St. Patrick expelled snakes from Ireland, explained the Trinity using the shamrock, and accomplished single-handed great missionary tasks of conversion. Scholars doubt if there were ever snakes in Ireland.
St. Patrick remains the most popular of Irish saints. In art he is usually depicted wearing the vestments of bishop treading on snakes. In the National Museum of Ireland shrines survive of his bell and his tooth (12th & 14th century). His fame has spread throughout the world and we celebrate his feast day on 17th March.
Here are some short videos about St. Patrick from YouTube.
Here are some short videos about St. Patrick from YouTube.