The Man and his Life
are many legends about of St. Patrick, but this is his story.
of Patrick’s life is shrouded in mystery. Historians
disagree on many dates and places in his life story. Patrick
was born sometime around 380 in Scotland or Wales. His parents
were Calpurnius and Conchessa, who were Romans living in Britain
in charge of the colonies. His real name was believed to be
Maewyn Succat as he took the name Patrick (or Patricus) after
he became a priest.
a boy of about fifteen or sixteen, he was captured during
a raiding party. He was taken to Ireland as a slave to herd
and tend sheep for an Irish chieftain named Milchu who lived
on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim. Patrick's captivity
lasted six years. He escaped after he had a dream from God
in which he was told to leave Ireland by going to the coast.
After a journey of 200 miles, he found a ship which took him
back to Britain, where he was reunited with his family.
his return to Britain, he had another dream in which the people
of Ireland were calling out to him "We beg you, holy
youth, to come and walk among us once more." He recorded
his call to his vocation (and other dreams from God) in the
“Confessio,” his spiritual autobiography. It is
one of his few writings that have survived. He left the comfort
of his family for France where he began his studies for the
priesthood in continental monasteries. Many believed he was
ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, France, whom
he had studied under for years. Later, Patrick was ordained
a bishop. His only other writing to survive, "Epistola"
pleads the case for the Christian Irish at the hands of their
British conquerors. Both writings show him as a humble, gentle
man of faith.
is believed that Patrick was sent to Ireland as a bishop to
replace Saint Palladius who died in 431. He arrived in Ireland
in 432 or 433, at Slane. One legend says that he met Dichu,
a chieftain of one of the tribes, who tried to kill Patrick.
Patrick converted Dichu after he was unable to move his arm
until he became friendly to Patrick. Dichu gave Patrick a
barn at Saul, county Down for his first church.
constant threats to his life, Patrick traveled widely through
Ireland, baptizing, confirming, and preaching. He converted
thousands and began building churches, monasteries, and schools
all over the country. Through the power of Patrick's message,
Kings, their families, and entire kingdoms converted to Christianity.
It is said that he and his disciples converted almost all
the population of Ireland. He eventually made his headquarters
legend had him spend 40 days on a mountain in county Mayo,
now known as Croagh Patrick. He was harassed by demons in
the form of blackbirds, clustered so densely that the sky
was black, but he continued to pray, and rang his bell to
disperse the assailants. An angel then appeared to tell the
saint that all his petitions for the Irish people would be
granted, and that they would retain their Christian faith
until Judgment Day.
is credited with banishing all the snakes from Ireland. This
is probably a metaphor for his driving the pagans from Ireland
as snakes were often associated with pagan worship. Another
well known legend had Patrick using the shamrock (which resembles
a three leaf clover) to explain the Trinity as the Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost. It has been associated with him and the
Irish since that time.
years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering
he died March 17, 461. He died at Saul, where he had built
the first church and is reputedly buried at nearby Downpatrick.