Patrick of Ireland
|Apostle of Ireland|
|Born||Born::373 AD, Bannavem of Taburnia, Britain|
|Died||Died::March 17, 461 AD, Down, Ireland|
|Venerated in|| Roman Catholicism|
|Major shrine||Croagh Patrick, Mayo, Ireland|
|Feast||March 17 (Saint Patrick's Day)|
Patrick, whose birth name is believed to have been Maewyn Succat, was born somewhere along the west coast of Britain in the little settlement or village of Bannavem of Taburnia (vico bannavem taburniæ in his Confessio), which has never been identified with certainty.
Patrick mentions in the Confessio, his autobiography, that his father was Calpornius; a deacon, civil official, and a town councillor, son of Potitus, who was a Romano-British priest. He states that at the age of about sixteen he was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave to a Druidic chieftain named Milchu in Dál Riata, County Antrim.
Although he came from a Christian family, he was not particularly religious before his capture. However, his enslavement markedly strengthened his faith. It was at this time he learned the native Gaelic language and the customs of the Druids, as his master was a Druidic high priest. He escaped at the age of twenty-two as legend has it under the direction of an angel, and spent twelve years in a monastery in Auxerre, where he adopted the name Patrick (Patricius, spelled Pádraig in Old Irish). One night in his sleep, he heard voices begging him to return to Ireland, and he thus, by now in his thirties, became one of the first Christian missionaries in Ireland, being preceded by St. Palladius (died 431 AD).
The first recorded Christian missionary in Ireland was St. Palladius, who was probably from Gaul (France). He was sent by Pope Celestine I to be bishop to the “Irish who believe in Christ.” in 431 AD.
It was in 432 AD that Patrick returned to Ireland, sent by the Pope as a missionary. His first converted patron was Saint Dichu, who made a gift of a large sabhall (barn) for a church sanctuary. This first sanctuary dedicated by St. Patrick became in later years his chosen retreat. A monastery and church were erected there, and there Patrick died; the site, Saul County Down, retains the name Sabhall (pronounced "Sowel").
Patrick set up his see at Armagh and organized the church into territorial sees, as elsewhere in the West and East. While Patrick encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns, it is not certain that he was a monk himself. It is even less likely that in his time the monastery became the principal unit of the Irish Church, although it was in later periods. The choice of Armagh may have been determined by the presence of a powerful king. There Patrick had a school and presumably a small familia in residence; from this base he made his missionary journeys. There seems to have been little contact with the Palladian Christianity of the southeast.
One famous story relates that at the annual vernal fire that was to be lit by the High King at Tara, when all the fires were extinguished so they could be renewed from the sacred fire from Tara, Patrick lit a rival, miraculously inextinguishable Christian bonfire on the hill of Slane at the opposite end of the valley. The season was associated with Easter by chroniclers who followed Patrick's own account in his Confessio.
Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, as men such as Palladius were active there before him. However, tradition accords him the most impact, and his missions seem to have been concentrated in the provinces of Ulster and Connacht which had never received Christians before. He established the Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he traveled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles. He threw down the idol of Crom Crúach in Leitrim.
Patrick wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again. His Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus protested British slave trading and the slaughter of a group of Irish Christians by Coroticus's raiding Christian Welshmen, and is the first surely identified literature of the British or Celtic Catholic Church. Patrick gathered many followers, including Saint Benignus, who would become his successor. His chief concerns were the raising up of native clergy, and abolishing paganism, idolatry, and sun-worship. He made no distinction of classes in his preaching and was himself ready for imprisonment or death.
Pious legend credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the doctrine of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian dogma of the Three Divine Persons in one God (as opposed to the Arian heresy that was popular in Patrick's time).
In his use of Scripture and eschatological expectations, Patrick was typical of the 5th century bishop. One of the traits which he retained as an old man was a consciousness of being an unlearned exile and former slave and fugitive, who learned to trust God completely.
Patrick died in 461 AD according to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals. The compiler of the Annals of Ulster stated that in the year 553:
"I have found this in the Book of Cuanu: The relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille. Three splendid halidoms were found in the burial-place: his goblet, the Angel's Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the angel distributed the halidoms: the goblet to Dún, the Bell of the Testament to Ard Macha, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum Cille himself. The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is that Colum Cille received it from the hand of the angel."
This would certainly seem to place his death in 461, or at least somewhere in that decade.
It is believed that March 17th was his death date (according to the Encyclopædia Britannica) and it is the date popularly associated with him as his feast, known as Saint Patrick's Day.
St. Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba. The Battle for the Body of St. Patrick demonstrates the importance of both him as a spiritual leader, and of his body as an object of veneration, in early Christian Ireland.
- Possibly near modern Carlisle in England. See De Paor, pp. 88 & 96; BritThomas, pp. 310–314.
- The Confession of St. Patrick
- Entry for AD 431 Chronicle of Prosper of Aquitaine
- The Pascal Fire of St. Patrick See Lanigan's Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, t. i., p. 224.
- Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus