St.Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland, Patron Saint of Ireland

by | Monday, March 17, 2014 | 0 comment(s)

Born in Scotland (?), c. 385-390; died at Saul, Strangford Lough,
Ireland, c. 461.

"I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came, and in His mercy lifted
me up, and verily raised me aloft and placed me on the top of the wall." --Saint Patrick

The historical Patrick is much more attractive than the Patrick of legend. It is unclear exactly where Patricius Magonus Sucatus (Patrick)
was born--somewhere in the west between the mouth of the Severn and the Clyde--but this most popular Irish saint was probably born in Scotland
of British origin, perhaps in a village called "Bannavem Taberniae." (Other possibilities are in Gaul or at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton,
Scotland.) His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and a civil official, a town councillor, and his grandfather was a Christian priest.

About 405, when Patrick was in his teens (14-16), he was captured by Irish raiders and became a slave in Ireland. There in Ballymena (or
Slemish) in Antrim (or Mayo), Patrick first learned to pray intensely while tending his master's sheep in contrast with his early years in
Britain when he "knew not the true God" and did not heed clerical "admonitions for our salvation." After six years, he was told in a
dream that he should be ready for a courageous effort that would take him back to his homeland.

He ran away from his owner and travelled 200 miles to the coast. His initial request for free passage on a ship was turned down, but he
prayed, and the sailors called him back. The ship on which he escaped was taking dogs to Gaul (France). At some point he returned to his
family in Britain, then seems to have studied at the monastery of Lerins on the Cote d'Azur from 412 to 415.

He received some kind of training for the priesthood in either Britain or Gaul, possibly in Auxerre, including study of the Latin
Bible, but his learning was not of a high standard, and he was to regret this always. He spent the next 15 years at Auxerre were he became a
disciple of Saint Germanus (f.d. July 31) and was possibly ordained about 417. Germanus is also said to have consecrated him bishop. [This
is incorrect - Patrick was consecrated bishop by St Maxim of Turin during the time he was returning from Rome to Auxerre].

He set up his see at Armagh about 444 and organised 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.

At Tara in Meath he is said to have confronted King Laoghaire on the Celtic Feast of Tara which coincided with Easter Eve. On that day the
fires were quenched throughout the country. The penalty for infringing the superstitious custom by kindling a fire was death. Nevertheless,
Patrick kindled the light of the Paschal fire on the hill of Slane (the fire of Christ never to be extinguished in Ireland). When Laoghaire and
his men went to apprehend the violator of their sacred night, they were treated to a sermon that confounded the Druids into silence, and gained
a hearing for Patrick as a man of power. During the course of the sermon, Patrick picked up a shamrock to use it as a symbol of the triune God.

Patrick converted the king's daughters Saints Ethenea and Fidelmia (f.d. January 11). He threw down the idol of Crom Cruach in Leitrim. Patrick
wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again.

There are many places in Ireland associated with S. Patrick but none more than Croagh Patrick in County Mayo where he spent the forty days of
Lent in 441 and saw devils as flocks of black birds and was sustained by the angels of God appearing as white birds filling the sky. On the last
Sunday in July the age-long annual pilgrimage draws thousands to scale the mountain.

The National Museum at Dublin has his bell and tooth, presumably from the shrine at Downpatrick, where he was originally entombed with Saints
Brigid and Columba. St Patrick's Church in Belfast claims to possess an enshrined arm.

*If you are speaking to one person, you would say:
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit
(la ale-lah pwad-rig son-ah ditch)

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