Friday, March 16, 2012


Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese of Boston.

Patrick is traditionally associated with the Shamrock plant, which he used to explain the concept of the Trinity.

  • St Patrick really existed 
  • Born in Britain (probably in Wales) in 5th century CE 
  • His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman official 
  • St Patrick was originally a pagan, not a Christian 
  • Taken to Ireland as a slave at age 16 
  • Escaped after 6 years 
  • Became a Christian priest, and later a Bishop 
  • Returned to Ireland as a missionary 
  • Played a major part in converting the Irish to Christianity 
  • Some of his writings survive, the "Confessio", and the Letter to Coroticus 

Doubtful Facts 
  • Born in 387 CE at Banwen in Wales 
  • His original name was Maewyn Succat, he became Patrick when he became a bishop 
  • Studied in France at the monastery of St Martin's in Tours 
  • Went to Ireland in 432 CE 
  • Died either in 461 CE, or 493 CE (unlikely) 
  • Taught by Saint Germaine 

Patrick's Early Life

Patrick’s family lived on a small estate near the village of Bannavem Taburniae. (This name cannot be placed on any current map of England or Wales.) Although his father was a deacon, Patrick was not a believer: "I did not, indeed, know the true God."

In his teens, Patrick was captured by a gang of Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland. Patrick came to believe that this was a punishment for his lack of faith. He was put to work for six years herding sheep and pigs on Slemish mountain in County Antrim. While he was a shepherd, Patrick spent much of his time praying.

"I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time."

In an escape bid while he was a captive in Ireland, Patrick stowed away on a boat bound for Britain, and it landed not far from where his parents lived. Patrick decided to become a priest, and after a dream he was inspired to return to Ireland.

"I seemed to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us."

Patrick spent several years studying before he felt ready to take up the life of a missionary. Patrick eventually returned to Ireland, as the country's second bishop and brought the message of Christ to many people who had never heard it. As a missionary Patrick baptised many thousands of people. It was not an easy task. Patrick tells how his life was at risk, and how he was sometimes imprisoned by the local pagan chiefs. We know that Patrick sometimes made things easier by giving gifts to the chiefs.

Poignantly, Patrick also writes of his longing to leave Ireland. "How I would have loved to go to my country and my parents, and also to Gaul in order to visit the brethren and to see the face of the saints of my Lord! God knows it! that I much desired it; but I am bound by the Spirit." He knew his duty was to remain in Ireland.

Patrick had problems not only with himself, and the local pagans, but suffered from some backbiting by fellow clergy who accused him of seeking to win personal status. The claim nearly broke his heart, but anyone who reads his Confessio will soon realise that Patrick was the last person to think that he deserved any glory for himself.

"I ought unceasingly to give thanks to God who often pardoned my folly and my carelessness, and on more than one occasion spared His great wrath on me, who was chosen to be His helper and who was slow to do as was shown me and as the Spirit suggested."

Patrick clearly perceived Ireland and Britain to be far apart, but he also perceived Britain and Gaul to be very close. Seeing the world like that is as much a matter of theology as geography. Jerusalem was believed to be the center of the world and around Jerusalem were countries which were occupied by the Romans. On one particular far-flung corner was the island of Ireland - the last bastion of paganism as Patrick saw it.

Patrick not only knew the language of his British parents but studied and understood Latin. He was well read in both secular writing and the Scriptures. Patrick had to speak Irish to communicate with the people.

Patrick believed that when "every nation" had heard the gospel, Christ would then return, and it seems he believed that he was the person to bring this message of Christianity to the land that represented this "final hurdle" of God's plan.

In Ireland, probably towards the end of his life, Bishop Patrick wrote about his life and work in the "Confessio". He begins: "I am the sinner Patrick. I am the most unsophisticated of people, the least of Christians, and for many people I am the most contemptible. . .

I was taken into captivity in Ireland - at that time I was ignorant of the true God - along with many thousand others.

This was our punishment for departing from God, abandoning his commandments, and ignoring our priests who kept on warning us about our salvation. . . "

Patrick was British. When he was a child, raiders from Ireland came and took him from Britain. In Ireland, he was sold as a slave, and spent about six years tending sheep and pigs around Slemish (a mountain formed from the plug of an extinct volcano just outside Ballymena in what is now County Antrim.) As a stowaway, he returned to his parents, but felt called by God to return to preach to the people of Ireland.

Did St Patrick bring Christianity to Ireland? Probably not. There's good evidence that there were believers in Ireland before Patrick arrived. Pope Celestine had sent Palladius to that part of the world years before. Anyway, it would be unlikely that a country with such strong trading links with the Roman Empire would have remained untouched by Christianity.

Did St Patrick drive the snakes out of Ireland? No he didn't, because it's unlikely there ever were any snakes in Ireland. The snake may be a reference to the serpent, a symbol of evil, and the driving out a reference to Patrick’s mission to rid Ireland of pagan influence.