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St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Patrick (died ca. 460) was a British missionary bishop to Ireland, possibly the first to evangelize that country. He is the patron saint of Ireland.

Although Patrick was the subject of a number of ancient biographies, none of them dates from earlier than the last half of the 7th century. A great deal of legendary information, often contradictory, gathered around his name. Of the various works ascribed to Patrick, the authorship of only two is certain, the Confession, written in his later years, and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, written at some point during his career as bishop. These two works provide the only certain knowledge of Patrick's life.

Patrick was born in a village that he identified as Bannavem Taberniae, probably near the sea in southwestern Britain. Evidence does not allow a more exact date for his birth than sometime between 388 and 408. His father, Calpornius, was both a deacon and a civic official; his grandfather, Pontius, was a priest. Patrick's family seems to have been one of some social standing, but, in spite of the clergy in it, he did not grow up in a particularly religious or intellectual environment.

At the age of 16 Patrick was abducted by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland, where he tended sheep and prayed for 6 years. In his words, "The love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened." In this religious fervor a voice came to Patrick, promising him a return to his own country.

Patrick was given passage on a ship by its sailors. The details of his voyage home are unclear; some believe that Patrick returned from Ireland to Britain by way of Gaul. This seems unlikely. Again, little is known of this period in his life. It may be that he resumed his education, although he was never learned. Indeed, he wrote at the beginning of the Confession, "I blush and fear exceedingly to reveal my lack of education; for I am unable to tell my story to those versed in the art of concise writing."

Elected a bishop, Patrick was sent by the Church in Britain to evangelize Ireland. His friends tried to dissuade him from "throwing himself into danger among enemies who have no knowledge of God." But Patrick believed that he had a divine call. One purpose of the Confession is to set forth his confidence in that calling and to witness the divine help that enabled him to fulfill it.

As a missionary bishop in Ireland, Patrick was a typical 5th-century bishop. He recorded that he baptized many thousands of people. He celebrated the Eucharist, instituted nuns and monks, and ordained clergy. No record shows that he consecrated other bishops or indeed that other bishops existed in Ireland.

The Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus gives the details of one event in his career. In reprisal for an Irish raid on the southwestern coast of Britain, Coroticus attacked the Irish coast, indiscriminately slaughtering its inhabitants. The Letter reports that one band of Coroticus's soldiers killed a group of newly baptized persons and took more captive. Patrick excommunicated Coroticus and called upon him to repent his crime and to free his prisoners.

Criticism of Patrick's work came to him from Britain; his seniors, he records, "brought up sins against my laborious episcopate." The basis for such charges is unknown; they did include his betrayal by a friend to whom Patrick had much earlier confessed a sin that he had committed at the age of 13. The Confession appears to be in part Patrick's defense of and justification of his episcopate to his superiors in Britain.

Although Patrick probably made his headquarters at Armagh, as a missionary he traveled around the island a great deal. It is not certain where he died; local traditions give various locations. It is also impossible to date his death more precisely than approximately 460. Patrick himself wrote a suitable epitaph in his Letter: "I, Patrick, a sinner, unlearned, resident in Ireland, declare myself to be a bishop."

Further Reading

Two compilations of St. Patrick's writings are St. Patrick: His Writings and Life, translated by Newport J. D. White (1920), and The Works of St. Patrick, translated and annotated by Ludwig Bieler (1953). The best and most recent study of Patrick is Richard P. C. Hanson, Saint Patrick: His Origins and Career (1968), a careful analysis of all the sources, which presents convincing arguments for accepting only the Confession and Letter as factual. John B. Bury, The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History (1905), is a reconstruction of events based upon the ancient chronicles and legends. Thomas F. O'Rahilly, The Two Patricks (1942), asserts that another bishop sent to Ireland was called Patrick. See also Paul Gallico, The Steadfast Man: A Biography of St. Patrick (1958). □

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Patrick, Saint

Saint Patrick, c.385–461, Christian missionary, the Apostle of Ireland, b. Bannavem Taberniae (an unknown place in Britain, possibly near the Severn or in Pembroke). He was one of the most successful missionaries in history.

Early Life and His Calling

The facts of Patrick's life are largely obscured by legend. He belonged to a Christian family of Roman citizenship. Captured when barely 16 by Irish marauders and enslaved, he worked for six years as a herder on the slopes of Slemish (near Ballymena, Co. Antrim) or of Croaghpatrick or (most likely) of both. Then, in response to a voice, he escaped and embarked for Gaul.

Patrick spent some years wandering on the Continent and probably visited the Monastery of St. Martin at Marmoutier. He entered the monastery at Lérins and received the tonsure. He returned c.413 to his native Britain and lived for some years with relatives. During this time he had a vision that called him to return to Ireland to Christianize it. Accordingly, he returned to Europe (c.419) to perfect himself as a missionary. The next 12 years were spent in study at Auxerre. In 431, St. Palladius, first missionary bishop sent to Ireland, died; Patrick was consecrated (432) in his place by St. Germanus of Auxerre.

In Ireland

In the winter of 432 Patrick landed near Saul and remained until spring, when he went to Tara and gained his first major converts. He defied the pagan priests of Tara by kindling the Easter fire on Slane, a nearby hill. This challenge to paganism created at first indignation, and subsequently respect, in the court of the high king. Tara became Patrick's headquarters, and with a band of followers he successively converted Meath, Leitrim, Cavan, and W Ireland. Further details of his missions are only generally known.

In 444 or 445, with the approval of Pope St. Leo I, Patrick established his archiepiscopal see at Armagh. St. Patrick's mission was successful; Ireland was almost entirely Christian by the time of his death. He understood and wisely preserved the social structure of the country, converting the people tribe by tribe. Out of his hierarchy, organized by tribal units, developed the Celtic abbot-bishop system. At Patrick's instance, the traditional laws of Ireland were codified. Patrick modified them to harmonize with Christian practice, and he mitigated the harsher ones, particularly those that dealt with slaves and taxation of the poor. He introduced the Roman alphabet. In 457 he retired to Saul, where he died.

He was buried in Downpatrick, which was a great European shrine until its destruction by the English government in 1539. Also enshrined to him is Croaghpatrick. Patrick's connection with Saint Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg is undoubtedly only legendary. His personality is said to have been unusually winning, and many legends have become attached to his name. Feast: Mar. 17.

Bibliography

The prime source for Patrick's life is the Confessions, a moving apology for his life and work written during his last years. Some years earlier he had written the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. This is an angry appeal to raiders, supposedly Roman-British Christians, to repudiate their ruler Coroticus for his bloody raid on Ireland and to return the women taken captive. St. Patrick was probably the author of the Lorica (or Breastplate) of St. Patrick, also called The Cry of the Deer (in Irish, Fáed Fíada), a mystic poem of faith written in Irish and Latin. See L. Bieler, ed., Works of Saint Patrick (1953); biographies by J. B. Bury (1905, repr. 1998), P. Gallico (1958), and P. Freeman (2004); study by R. P. C. Hanson (1968).

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Patrick, St

Patrick, St (c.389–c.461). Patron saint of Ireland. Born in Britain, in his youth he was seized by raiders and taken to Ireland. In slavery for six years, he was sustained by prayer. Told in a dream of his impending return home, he made his way to the coast and joined a merchant ship, facing many dangers before rejoining his family. In clerical training, he seems to have spent some years in France at the monastery of Lerins and at Auxerre, where he was probably consecrated by St Germanus before embarking on his evangelistic work in Ireland. Despite hostile druids, he apparently impressed the high king Laoghaire and was favoured by many chieftains. Often at risk, he was fearlessly determined to destroy paganism. Through his efforts, countless numbers were baptized and confirmed, many clergy ordained, and his see established at Armagh, whence he began to organize the emerging church on Roman diocesan lines. In popular legend, the saint who expelled snakes from Ireland was a miracle-worker. Patrick's own ‘Confession’, and letter to Coroticus, reveal a deeply caring man, not well educated, but with a complete trust in God.

Audrey MacDonald

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Patrick, St

Patrick, St (5th century), Apostle and patron saint of Ireland. His Confession is the chief source for the events of his life. Of Romano-British parentage, he was taken as a slave to Ireland, where he experienced a religious conversion; having escaped to Britain, where he received training for the priesthood, he returned to Ireland to preach the Gospel c.435. He founded the archiepiscopal see of Armagh in about 454.

Legends of the saint include the tradition that he used the shamrock to explain the nature of the Trinity, and that he was responsible for banishing snakes from Ireland. His feast day is 17 March.
Order of St Patrick a former British order of knighthood instituted in 1783; its special epithet is ‘most illustrious’.
St Patrick's cross a red diagonal cross on a white ground.
St Patrick's Purgatory a cavern on an island in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, Ireland, where according to legend Christ appeared to St Patrick, and showed him a deep pit in which whoever spent one day and one night could see the torments of hell and the joys of heaven.

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Patrick, St.

Patrick, St.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Britain around a.d. 389. He was the son of a Roman official. At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by raiders from Ireland and carried back to their homeland. After working as a shepherd for six years, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship was prepared for him to escape his captivity.

The accounts of his journeys at this time differ. He either traveled back to Britain or sailed to Gaul (present-day France). In any event, it seems likely that he visited France, where he joined a monastery and was ordained as a priest. According to his autobiography, the Confessio, he had another dream, in which the Irish asked him to return to their island. St. Patrick left his monastery to travel among the pagan Irish chieftains, converting them and their people to Christianity.

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs

Several legends have sprung up around St. Patrick, the most famous one claiming that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland and into the sea. A popular myth holds that he used the shamrock to explain to a pagan Irishman the Holy Trinity, the idea that God consists of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The shamrock is now Ireland's national flower, worn by the Irish on St. Patrick's feast day, March 17.

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Patrick, St

Patrick, St (c.390–c.460). Christian missionary bishop of Ireland.

The only certain information about St Patrick's life comes from his one surviving letter and from his autobiographical Confession. His authorship of the ancient Irish hymn ‘The Breastplate of St Patrick’ is unlikely. In later legends, he becomes a miracle-worker who drove the snakes out of Ireland. The same legends, concerned to make him the sole ‘apostle of the Irish’, exaggerate the scope of his missionary work. His place of burial was not known, allowing Glastonbury to claim possession of his relics. Feast day, 17 Mar.

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Patrick, Saint

Patrick, Saint (active 5th century ad) Patron saint of Ireland. What is known of him comes almost entirely from his autobiography, Confessio. He was born in Britain into a Romanized Christian family. Abducted by marauders at the age of 16, he was carried off to Ireland and sold to a local chief. After six years, he escaped back to Britain. He was sent to Ireland as a missionary by Pope Celestine I (432), and established an episcopal see at Armagh. His missionary work was so successful that Christianity was firmly established in Ireland before he died. His feast day is March 17.

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