Who Was Saint Patrick?
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and our own parish, is one of Christianity's most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are seemingly false, and the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
St. Patrick left behind two documents that shed light on his life experience, his faith experience, and his views on slavery. The earliest is his Letter to Coroticus, written in anger when soldiers kidnapped Irish Christians that he had just converted. The second is his Confessio, written near the end of his life and chronicling his life and faith. The importance of St Patrick in our lives doesn't really come from the historical details, but from the inspiration of a man who returned to the country where he had been a child slave, in order to bring the message of Christ.
His early life
It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century, into a wealthy, Christian family of Roman citizenship. Although his father was a deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They transported him to Ireland where he was sold into slavery, working as a shepherd, away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian.
His Escape and Vocation
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick was urged in a dream to escape, which he did, by walking nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. He then stowed away on a boat bound for Britain, which landed not far from where his parents lived. After escaping to Britain, Patrick experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, under St. Martin of Tours and later, St Germain, in France, a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, and some time spent back in Britain, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission—to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.
As Ireland's second bishop, and despite immense opposition and trials, Patrick brought the message of Christ to many people who had never heard it and baptised many thousands of people, establishing the Catholic Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations. It is recorded that he established numerous churches and consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops. By the time of his death, or shortly thereafter, as a result of the spread of Christianity, many of the previously common barbaric practices in Ireland had ceased; the Irish stopped slave trading, never to take it up again, and in addition, human sacrifice had become unthinkable. And the example of his life—his courage, his intelligence, his compassion and his incredible, indomitable faith—made the lives of all Catholics, even those living 1,500 years later, just a little easier.
The beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as "St. Patrick's Breast-Plate" , is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. He has also left us his writings, in the Confessio and Letter to Coroticus .
He is believed to have died on March 17, around 461 A.D. and that date is celebrated today all over the world as St Patrick's Day.
- Celebrating St Patrick's Day and the story of St. Patrick (video)
- St. Patrick's life (including a detailed account of his missionary work in Ireland)
- St Patrick's life (told in narrative form)
- The St Patrick you never knew
- The life of St Patrick for children
- Legends associated with St Patrick
- Dates and facts about St Patrick
- St Patrick's Centre (gives detailed historical background)
- Ireland and St Patrick (including legends, festivals and recipes; requires Adobe Acrobat)
- St Patrick's Breastplate