ST PATRICK – ACCORDING TO ST PATRICK
With St Patrick’s Day closing in on us and fast, we thought we share some of the ACTUAL words penned by the man himself. About…himself.
We all know St Patrick’s Day. Here in Ireland, it is still somewhat of a religious day. Christians attend church services. And the good news is that the restrictions of Lent on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. In a big way! But these days, to the wider world, it is largely a celebration of Ireland itself. The original meaning of St Patrick Day has been layered with new meanings over time. However I bet you didn’t know that as far as saints go, St Patrick wasn’t one – in the technical sense. He was never canonised formally by a Pope; nevertheless, various Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven, which is good enough for the rest of us, anyway.
St Patrick, who started his life named Maewyn Succat, lived in the second half of the 4th Century. Historians have worked out that he was probably born in what is now modern-day Ravenglass in Cumbria, UK. Patrick came from a wealthy background, so was educated and could write well. He was raised in Roman Britain, referred to by the Romans as Britannia. It was a time when part of the island of Great Britain was controlled by the Roman Empire from 43 AD until c. 410. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon. However Patrick was not a believer. In fact his early life was uneventful and probably happy and carefree. But at age 16, everything changed for the young Maewyn Succat. As a 16-year-old, Maewyn was kidnapped by Irish pirates. Once they arrived on Irish shores, he was sold as a slave. A farmer bought him, and set him to work as a shepherd, looking after goats and pigs on Mount Slemish in co Antrim. Patrick remained as a slave for 6 years, and it in in this time of solitude in a strange land, that he says that God started to communicate with him. What most people don’t realise is that there are many writings from the dude himself that have survived from all those centuries ago. And they make for fascinating reading about his spiritual struggle and hardships because of this.
This is a picture of St Patrick’s Confessio in the Book of Armagh. There are eight medieval manuscritps that have survived. You can look at the manuscripts here
This is an ACTUAL excerpt from his autobiography, called Confessio.
I, Patrick, a sinner, am a most uncultivated man, and the least of all the faithful, and I am greatly despised by many. My father was the deacon Calpornius, son of the late Potitus, a priest of the town of Banna Venta Berniae. He had a small estate nearby, where I was taken captive. I was barely sixteen. I had neglected the true God, and when I was carried off into captivity in Ireland, along with a great number of people, it was well deserved. For we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep his commandments, and we disobeyed our bishops who were reminding us of our salvation. God revealed himself to us through his wrath: He scattered us among foreign peoples, even to the end of the earth, where, appropriately, I have my own small existence among strangers.
Then the lord made me aware of my unbelief, so that- however late – I might recollect my offences and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God. It was He who took heed of my insignificance. Who pitied my youth and ignorance, who watched over me as a father would a son. That is why I cannot remain silent (further it would be inappropriate to do so) about the great favours and graces which the Lord deigned to grant me in the land of my captivity. For the way to make repayment for that revelation of God through capture and enslavement is to declare and make known His wonders to every race under heaven.
But after I had arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times everyday – and in the night nearly as often. So that I would even remain in the woods and on the mountain in snow, frost and rain, waking to pray before first light. And I felt no ill effect, nor was I in any way sluggish – because as I now realise, the Spirit was seething within me.
And it was there in fact that one night, in my sleep, I heard a voice saying to me: ‘It is good that you fast, you will go soon to your home land’. And again, after a short space of time I heard this pronouncement: ‘Look! Your ship is ready. And it was not nearby, but was, as it happened, two hundred miles away. I had never been there and I knew no one. And shortly after I had afterwards I fled that place, leaving the man with whom I had been for six years. I travelled with the aid of God, who guided me as his son, successfully on his way and I had nothing to fear, until I arrived at that ship. On the day I arrived the ship weighed anchor, I explained that I had the wherewithal to sail with them. And that day, furthermore, I refused for fear of God, to suck their nipples. (A Pagan custom of friendship) Nevertheless I hoped that some of them would come to faith in Jesus Christ (for they were heathen). This displeased the captain who answered sharply, with anger “Your wish to travel with us is quite futile”. And when I heard this, I left them in order to return to the shelter in which I had lodged, beginning to pray as I went. Before the prayer was finished, I heard one of them, who shouted out to me ‘Come quickly these men are calling you’. I returned to them immediately and they began to explain to me: ‘Come, we will accept you in good faith. Bind yourself to us in whatever way you wish.’ Because of this I was received among them and we set sail straight away.
And after three days we reached land. We travelled for twenty-eight days through a wilderness. They ran out of food, and hunger weakened them, and the next day the captain addressed me; ‘What’s this, Christian? You say your God is great and all powerful. Then why can’t you pray for us? For we are in danger of dying of hunger. In fact it’s doubtful if we’ll see another human being.’ I said to them confidently: ‘Trust in the Lord my God and turn to him with all your hearts – since nothing is impossible for him, that he may send you today more than sufficient food for your journey – for he has an abundance everywhere.’ And with God’s help it came about. There right before our eyes, a heard of pigs appeared. They killed many of them, and spent two nights eating their fill and fully recovered their strength, for many of them had grown weak and were half-dead along the way. After this they gave the greatest thanks to God, and I gained prestige in their eyes. From that point onward they had abundant food. They even found some wild honey and offered it to me, saying ‘It is a sacrifice.’ Thank God I tasted none of it.
That very night, when I was asleep, Satan tested me most severely: the memory of it will remain with me as long as I am in this body. It was as if a huge rock fell on top of me and I had no use of my limbs. I believe that the Lord came to my help, and that it was the Spirit who was already crying out in me; and I pray that it will be so on the day of my troubles, as it says in the Gospel: ‘On that day’ the Lord testifies – ‘It is not you who speaks, but the Spirit of the Father who speaks within you.’ And on another occasion many years later I was taken captive. And I spent the first night with my captors. However I heard a divine announcement too me: ‘You will be two months in their hands.’ This is what happened. On the sixteenth night the Lord freed me from them. While we were on our journey he provided us with food, fire and dry conditions until, on the tenth day, we met people. As I have indicated above we travelled for twenty eight days through a wilderness, and on that night on which we met people, we had truly no food left.
Another time, after a few years, when I was in Britain, my family received me as a son, and they asked me whether after such tribulations as I had undergone they could trust me now, as a son never to leave them again. But while I was there, in a night vision, I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victorious, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘the voice of the Irish’. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was pierced by great emotion and could not read on and so I woke. Thank God that after my years the Lord answered my call according to their cry. And another night he spoke (God knows, not I, weather within me or beside me) in his words which I heard in terror, but without understanding them, except that at the end of the message he said: ‘he who gave his life for you, it is he who speaks within you” and so I woke, full of joy.
So as you can see from the above passage, written by the guy himself, St Patrick had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. And this was his eventual plan. However, only being new to all things God, he didn’t feel qualified to go on the first ship that left. Before dedicating his life to being a missionary, he took himself off to France to join a monastery. He trained for 12 years, before he felt he was mature enough to return to Ireland to evangelise. The next chapter of the history of St Patrick is better documented than his earlier life, seeing as Monks of the day loved to keep records. He arrived at Strangford Loch, Co Down, as a bishop sent with the Pope’s blessing. Although he is known all over the world as the dude who converted Ireland to Christianity, he wasn’t actually the first Christian evangelist who went there to seek such a goal. An earlier mission had seen Palladius preach to the Irish with the blessing of the Pope. So he wasn’t going into virgin territory, exactly.
It is assumed that Patrick had learned to speak Irish in his time of slavery: this was his key to success. The conversion of the native Irish was on a mind-boggling scale, and many historians believe that the only way he could be so convincing was to have spoken to the Pagans in their own language. Of course, it wasn’t all conversions and sing-alongs. St Patrick was arrested several times, imprisoned, and beaten away from villages by local chieftains or Celtic Druids, but he always managed to get himself out of whatever trouble he was in. He kept at this for 20 years, travelling the entire island, baptising people and establishing monasteries, schools and churches wherever he went. By the time he died, on 17 March, in about 461, he left behind an organised church, the See of Armagh, and an island of Christians. He was buried Downpatrick, Co Down.
For more information, you can visit the Saint Patrick Centre. It is located in Downpatrick, Co Down. The Centre is the only permanent exhibition in the world dedicated to the story of St Patrick and how he became Ireland’s Patron Saint.
Did St. Patrick banish all snakes from Ireland?
Everyone knows that there are no snakes in Ireland, and down through the centuries, it has been said that this is because St Patrick banished them. However according to several Irish naturalists, the absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that they had all been banished by St. Patrick. He is said to have chased them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast on Croagh Patrick. And yet there is no evidence that post-glacial Ireland ever had snakes. And even though Scotland is only 8 miles away, no Scottish snakes that existed any time throughout history ever managed to get across the watery straights. So according to historians, there were no snakes to banish. A suggestion, by fiction author Betty Rhodes, is that the term ‘snakes’ referred to the Druids. They were quite fixated on snakes culturally, and were adorned with giant snake tattoos, and even had coins minted featuring snakes.
Places associated with Saint Patrick
*Slemish, County Antrim – When captured by raiders, it is thought that St Patrick herded sheep in the countryside around Slemish.
*Saul, County Down (from Irish: Sabhall Phádraig, meaning “Patrick’s barn”) – It is claimed that Patrick founded his first church in a barn at Saul, which was donated to him by a local chieftain called Dichu. It is also claimed that Patrick died at Saul or was brought there between his death and burial.
*Hill of Slane, County Meath – it was here that Patrick explained the holy trinity using the shamrock.
*Croagh Patrick, County Mayo (from Irish: Cruach Phádraig, meaning “Patrick’s stack”) – It is claimed that Patrick climbed this mountain and fasted on its summit for the forty days of Lent. Croagh Patrick draws thousands of pilgrims who make the trek to the top on the last Sunday in July.
*Lough Derg, County Donegal (from Irish: Loch Dearg, meaning “red lake”) – It is claimed that Patrick killed a large serpent on this lake and that its blood turned the water red (hence the name). Each August, pilgrims spend three days fasting and praying there on Station Island.
*Armagh, County Armagh – It is claimed that Patrick founded a church here and proclaimed it to be the most holy church in Ireland. Armagh is today the primary seat of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Ireland and both cathedrals in the town are named after Patrick.
Do you want to know about other figures in Ireland’s history? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org
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