was born sometime around 380 in Scotland or Wales. His parents were
Calpurnius (whom some believe was a deacon) and Conchessa, who were
Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. His real name was
believed to be Maewyn Succat and he took the names Patrick (or Patricus
in Latin and later as Padraig in Gaelic) after he became a priest.
a boy of fourteen or so, he was captured during a raiding party and
taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep for an Irish chieftain
named Milchu who lived on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. Ireland
at this time was a land of Druids and pagans. He learned the language
and practices of the people who held him.
his captivity, he turned to God in prayer. He wrote: "The love of God
and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul
was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred
prayers and in the night, nearly the same. I prayed in the woods and
on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice
captivity lasted until he was twenty, when he escaped after having a
dream from God in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the
coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britain, where
he reunited with his family. He had another dream in which the people
of Ireland were calling out to him, "We beg you, holy youth, to come
and walk among us once more."
recorded his call to a vocation, as well as many other dreams and miracles
from God in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography. The only other
writing to survive is the Epistola, which pleads the case for the Christian
Irish at the hands of their British conquerors.
began his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus,
the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years. Later, Patrick
was ordained a bishop, and was sent to take the Gospel to Ireland, replacing
Palladius (d. 431). He arrived in Ireland March 25, 433, at Slane, known
to the people of the Isle as Padraig. One legend says that he met a
chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick. Patrick converted
Dichu (the chieftain) after he was unable to move his arm until he became
friendly to Patrick. Dichu gave the saint a barn at Saul, County Down,
for his first church.
was intractable, and despite having his life repeatedly threatened,
he and his followers preached and converted thousands while also building
churches, monasteries and schools all over the country. Kings, their
families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity when hearing
Patrick's message. He eventually made his home base in Armagh, now the
Primatial See of Ireland.
by now had many disciples, among them Beningnus, Auxilius, Iserninus,
and Fiaac, (all later canonized as well). He preached, administered
the sacraments and converted thousands as he traveled throughout Ireland
for over 40 years. He worked many miracles and wrote of his love for
God in his Confessions.
to tradition St. Patrick died in 493 in Downpatrick, County Down, and
was buried in the same grave as were Ireland's later holy people, St.
Bridget and St. Columba. Another legend says the saint ended his days
at Glastonbury and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick still
exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. There is evidence of an Irish pilgrimage
to his tomb in Glastonbury during the reign of the Saxon King Ine in
688, when a group of pilgrims headed by St. Indractus were murdered.
Ledgends of Padraigs of Ireland: The Blackbirds
the great Padraig, Saint if the Isle, it is oft times difficult to separate
actual history and legend. Once he spent 40 days on a mountain in County
Mayo, now known as Croagh Patrick. He was harassed by demons in the
form of blackbirds, clustered so densely that the sky was dark. Still,
he continued in prayer ringing his bell (the one he used to call the
people to faith lessons and worship) trying to rid himself of these
assailants from Hell. Finally an angel appeared to the saint reassuring
him that all his prayers for the Irish people would be granted, and
that they would retain their Christian faith until Judgment Day.
Driving Out The Snakes
tales tell of Patrick standing on a hill, using his wooden staff to
drive the serpents into the sea, and banishing them forever from the
shores of Ireland. One legend says that one old serpent resisted, but
the saint overcame it by cunning. He is said to have made a box and
invited the reptile to enter. The snake insisted the box was too small
and the discussion became very heated. Finally the snake entered the
box to prove he was right, whereupon Patrick slammed the lid and cast
the box into the sea. While it is true there are no snakes in Ireland,
chances are that there never have been since the time the island was
separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age.
While not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it was Patrick
who encountered the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites,
which often associated snakes as part of their worship.
shamrock, or trefoil, at one time called the "Seamroy," symbolizes the
cross and Blessed Trinity...as it has one stem with three lines going
through three equally sized leaves at the top of the stem. Before the
Christian era it was a sacred plant of the Druids of Ireland because
its leaves formed a triad. The well-known legend of the shamrock connects
it definitely to St. Patrick and his teaching. Preaching in the open
hills and fields on the doctrine of the Trinity, he is said to have
illustrated the existence of the Three in One by plucking a shamrock
from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to those who had gathered
around him. The legend of the shamrock is also connected with that of
the banishment of the serpent tribe from Ireland by a tradition that
snakes are never seen on trefoil and that it is a remedy against the
bite of snakes and the stings of scorpions. The trefoil in Arabia is
called "shamrakh" and was sacred in Iran as an emblem of the Persian
triads. The trefoil, being a sacred plant to the Druids, and three being
a mystical number in the Celtic religion as well as others, it is probable
that St. Patrick must have been aware of the significance of his illustration.