St. Patrick a patron saint of Ireland (as well as Nigeria) and was instrumental in bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle. Two of his writings have been preserved over the years: his Confessio, a short spiritual autobiography and the source of most of what is known about him; and his “Letter to Coroticus,” which denounces British mistreatment of Irish Christians.
Patrick (christened “Patricius”) was born to a well-to-do family towards the end of the 4th century in Britain (not Ireland), which was then under the control of the Roman empire. His father was a Christian deacon and minor Roman official; his grandfather a Christian priest.
For years, the Irish had conducted raids along western Britain. When Patrick was 16, he was kidnapped in one of these raids and subsequently held captive in Ireland for six years. During his captivity, Patrick worked as a herdsman, tending sheep. The deprivation and isolation he experienced during this time caused him to turn to the Christian faith for strength, and he spent much of his time in prayer.
Patrick writes that, after six years of captivity, he was directed in a dream to make his escape. Risking recapture and punishment, he walked 200 miles to the coast. After being initially rebuffed by the captain, he was allowed on a cargo ship. The ship landed on a desert coast, where the men were starving until they found a herd of pigs after Patrick prayed for God’s provision. After spending three years in a monastery at Gaul, Patrick was finally reunited with his family in Britain – but years later he would return to the land of his captivity.
Back in Britain, Patrick had a dream in which Irishmen were pleading for him to return to them. In response to this calling, after years of training and study to become a priest, he returned to Ireland in 432 after being designated bishop of Ireland. Contrary to popular belief, Patrick was not the first to introduce Christianity there. A bishop by the name of Palladius was earlier sent by Pope Celestine I in 431 to help guide Irish believers. However, Patrick’s successful mission to bring Christianity to the pagan population of Ireland was unprecedented, it being one of the Church’s first endeavors to reach a people group outside of the Roman Empire. Patrick bravely risked re-enslavement and death to undertake this mission.
Towards the end of his life, Patrick retired to Saul – the site of his first church in Ireland – where he died. He is believed to have died on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), around 460-461.
Today, Patrick has become a legendary figure. Maybe the most famous apocryphal story involving Patrick is that he miraculously drove all snakes from Ireland. He is also said to have used the shamrock, Ireland’s national flower, to help explain the Christian concept of the Trinity – God being three in one.
- The Encyclopedia of Saints
- Text of The Confessio
Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a little Irish music:
Check out our blog about these classic Irish tunes!
If you would like to view and request more St. Patrick’s Day music:
Check out this list of Irish Music in our catalog, Bibliocommons.