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The Life of St. Patrick the Patron Saint of Ireland

celtic era

St. Patrick (birth name, Maewyn Succat) spent his life bringing the teachings of Christ and the Gospels to all he met, friend or foe.

St. Patrick was born at Kilpatrick Scotland in 387. His father was a Roman from a high ranking family. He was the decurio (city official and town counselor) as well as a Roman priest in Gaul (Britain). His mother, Conchessa, was a relative of St Martin of Tours.

When Patrick was 16 years old he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery. His new master was a Druid priest and chieftain. He cared for the flocks of his cruel master. He learned the Celt language and all about the Druid religion during the next 6 years.

It was during this time that he became consumed by the need to pray. In his memoirs, he stated that he would go to pray up to 100 times a day and another 100 times a night without taking harm from the weather. The more he prayed the more his faith in God grew. Then one day he received a message from an angel saying he should escape from his slavery.

He escaped and went west about 200 miles to Westport. He found a ship ready to sail and tried several times to get aboard. Finally his persistence paid off and he was allowed to go with them and in a few days was restored to his friends and family in Britain. Once there he discovered his heart was set on devoting himself to God.

From Gaul he went to St. Martin's monastery at Tours and then on to the island sanctuary of Lerins which was growing famous for it's learning and piety. He went wherever there were great examples of Christian life.

He followed St. Germain on his mission to Auxerre. Under St. Germain's guidance he was ordained into the priesthood. He spent several years doing missionary work in the territory of Morini under St. Germain.

Then when Germain was commissioned by the Holy See to go to Gaul (Britain) to combat the teachings of Pelagius, Patrick was chosen to be one of his missionary companions. He was given a share of the credit for helping to overcome heresy and Paganism. But his thoughts kept returning to Ireland. He received visions of the children, crying for his return.

Pope St. Celestine I finally sent Patrick, then a bishop, back to Ireland. It is believed he and his companions arrived in Saul, Ireland in the summer of 433. The Druids were waiting and up in arms. He decided to go on to the home of his old master and spread the word of God. He is reported to have spent several days resting on the islands off the Skerries coast. From there he traveled up to the mouth of the River Boyne and preached to some natives who came to see him. It was here that he performed his first "miracle" in Ireland.

He is said to have converted one of the Chieftains after the man tried to kill him. The chieftain, Dichu, could not move his arm after raising it to kill Patrick until he lost his desire to hurt Patrick and became friendly and obedient to him. Dichu then presented Patrick with a large barn where instruction in the new gospel could be heard. Later in Patrick's life this became one of his favorite retreats. A monastery and Church were erected on the site and it was the first Church dedicated to St. Patrick. It still retains the name "Sabhall" which means barn.

Leaving one of his missionaries to continue God's work there he traveled on to the lands of his former owner where he found the house on fire and the owner having thrown himself in the flames to keep from being bested by Patrick.

As he continued in his travels, Patrick heard of a great gathering of the leaders of Ireland called by the King of all the clans to be held at Tara. He decided he must attend this gathering and free the people from Druidism. Along the way he stopped to rest at a chieftain's (Secsnen) house. Secsnen, his family and household promptly converted to Christianity. Secsnen's son, Benignus, was captivated by St. Patrick and would gather flowers for Patrick to sleep with. When it was time to leave the son refused to be parted from Patrick. Patrick promised his father that Benignus would be Patrick's comrade on his sacred mission and heir to it.

It was Easter Sunday 433 that the great gathering was to meet at Tara. Everything was set. The Druids were there as well, to defy Patrick and the new religion. On the day before, the King, Leoghaire, said no fires were to be lit before the one meant to call the meeting. Patrick came to a hill at the other end of the valley from Tara and lit the Paschal fire (Holy Fire). The Druids went to the king and warned him that if the fire was not put out and Patrick killed, evil would come over the land. The king ordered his men to kill Patrick and put out the fire. The fire could not be extinguished and Patrick was protected by God so no man could kill him. On Easter Sunday. Patrick, dressed in all of his Church finery, gathered his missionaries into a procession and led by Benignus and went on to Tara. The Druids tried everything to keep Patrick away but did not succeed. The Druids are said to have brought forth a dark and evil cloud to cover the area. Patrick defied them to remove it and when they could not, he prayed and the sun was brought forth. Then the head of the Druids seem to rise into the air above everyone but when Patrick prayed, he fell to his death on the rocks below him.

The King told everyone to show no respect to Patrick and his companions. However, a royal page did rise to show respect. On the second meeting, one of the Chieftain-Bards rose. Both men, converted and became fervent supporters of Christianity.

It was said that on that day, Patrick used a 3 leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity and the Gospel. Following that the king gave Patrick permission to preach throughout Ireland.

Then on April 5th after journeying to Tailten, he performed the first public baptism in Ireland on the brother of the king. He was then presented with a site for a church by that man. Again, Patrick left missionaries to carry on his work while he went onward. He decided that it was the children of Focluth that he had been seeing in his vision, so he went with the chieftains of the area and again brought the word of God to the people.

While he had the king's permission to preach, he still had to pay "tolls" (such as the cost of 15 slaves) along the way. At Magh-Slecht a huge gathering was going to worship one of the druid idols. He "smote it with his crosier" and it turned to dust. The people there fell to their knees and listened to him preach.

At Killala he converted the king, his sons and 12,000 people to the faith. He then spent 7 years teaching, organizing and building in Connaught. At Killala, he is said to have converted and baptized the daughters of the king, who became brides of the church.

From Connaught he went forth to Ulster. And in 444 he was granted a site for a new church but Patrick was not content. He knew he would have to pick the site and so permission was given for him to have any site in the kingdom that he chose. And when the church was built, the people gathered to consecrate the Cathedral of Armagh and give it unto God. The Pope even sent representatives of the Holy See.

From Ulster he moved on to Meath. He continued his work there and then on to Leinster. As he traveled he preached, organized dioceses, built churches, performed baptisms and continued the work of God. The chieftain of the local district was a worshiper of the druid idol destroyed by Patrick. He had sworn to kill Patrick for revenge. Odhran, Patrick's charioteer, having heard of the plot asked Patrick to drive the chariot and allow him to ride and rest. Shortly after starting, a lance pierced the heart of the loyal Odhran. Having saved the life of Patrick, he was given the Martyr's Crown.

In Munster, he was well received by the people at "Cashel of the Kings". It was in Munster that he baptized the King's brother, Conall, and accidentally stabbed the man' s foot. The man said not a word until Patrick noticed it and asked him why he didn't. Conall said he thought it was part of the ceremony. And for his pain, suffering and fortitude, Patrick immediately used his crosier to mark a cross upon his shield and told him that the shield would be a sign of great triumphs.

Onward he traveled to Limerick, where his great deeds and piety had preceded him. His great ambition was to spread the word of God to all of Ireland.

He was known to sleep on rocks, wear a hair shirt, and keep his vow of poverty. He was credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland which could mean the druids or the Pelagian heretics as both were symbolized by the serpent. He fought against slavery and treated all as equals regardless of their status.

For the rest of his life he continued to do the work of God. During his lifetime, he consecrated at least 350 bishops as well as hundreds of people of other grades. He saw to the building of countless churches, tended to the sick, cared for the poor and preached the word of God to everyone he came in contact with. He encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns. Among his disciples, many became canonized as well, including Benignus.

He achieved his greatest ambition which was to bring Christianity to Ireland.

St. Patrick died on March 17, 493 A.D. and was laid to rest at Saul.