The History of St Patrick Pt 2

by JoHarrington

St Patrick is possibly the world's most famous patron saint. On March 17th, people all over the world will celebrate St Patrick's Day. But do you know his story?

Patricius had finally made it home, after enduring six years of harsh slavery in Ireland. He'd escaped by simply fleeing and, against all odds, made it onto a ship out of the country.

His well born Romano-British family had welcomed him back with open arms into their villa. He was safe again. He could just curl up and try to come to terms with the trauma of his past. But such things are not so easily forgotten.

Plus it had been a voice from God which got him out of there; and a vision would illuminate the path into his whole future.

St Patrick Rosary with Green Glass Shamrocks

How do you Survive Freedom?

After six years as a slave, returning to normality isn't as easy as desperate dreams would have it.

It's hard to imagine how they felt.  When the first burst of disbelief and wonder had receded, then how do you live with the return of a son you thought was lost?  How do you live with the family who weren't there?

When Patricius had been snatched, he'd been a sheltered sixteen year old boy.  His parents had seen him forced terrified, at sword-point, into a coracle; and there was nothing that they could have done to stop it.

For six years, they had had to live with that.  They must have wondered where he was, what was happening to him, if he was even alive or dead.  Every torture and degradation must have passed in the imagination of his mother and father.  Even if he was fine, which they doubted, he was alone, far from home and in great danger. They couldn't reach him to comfort and defend him. Their little boy.

For six years, Patricius had survived a tremendous feat of endurance.  Naked, half-starved and terrified for his life, he must have stared towards distant horizons.  His mind must have fled in the sanctity of hope, that one day the hillside would be filled with someone, something, a whole army come to rescue him.  But it never came. They had no idea where he was; nor did they have the wherewithal to raise such an army.

They would face each other now over the wall of that.  Patricius and his parents, his siblings, his friends, his family's retainers and the common people.  Those who lived in relative safety and much more comfortable surroundings, while Patricius risked exposure.  He was twenty-two now.  A grown man, who'd learnt cruelly and with great force that the world sometimes offered no protection at all; and that parents can only do their best, but be rendered helpless all the same.

Only one Being, one entity, had never let Patricius down.  It had been God keeping him sane and alive on the mountainside.  It had been the voice of God, or one of his angels or saints, who gave him the courage to leave it.

God had brought him home; God and Patricius's own tremendous resourcefulness.  But now he was home, now all of his dreams had come true, what then?

Visions of Victoricus

Just because Patricius was home, it didn't mean that he was any less in communication with the Heavenly realm.

Image: ScrollIn 396, a French missionary from Rouen came to spread the word of Jesus Christ to the Britons. St Victoricus claimed to have made many converts amongst the Romano-British nobility.

Patricius would only have been a toddler at the time (if indeed he wasn't born a few decades later), but he was raised a Christian.  He would have had relatives telling him all about the visit of the saint.

It was a name which had existed in his spiritual world before his enslavement; and it was a name to which he'd prayed on that mountainside. It's little wonder that it came to mean something afterwards too.

A few months after returning home to Banna Venta Berniae, Patricius was sleeping in the sunlight of the villa's patio.  He had a most vivid dream.  It felt as real to him as the one which had called to him back in Ireland.

St Victoricus approached in brilliant light, looking holy and pure, a saviour in the footsteps of Christ himself.  In his hands were a clutch of scrolls, parchments, letters written on materials that Patricius couldn't even recognize; and the French saint handed one to him.

The troubled young man read the heading on the page: Vox Hiberionacum.  The Voice of the Irish, in Latin script.  The content called out to him.  Irish people now and in the future, desperate for his forgiveness and salvation. "We beg you to walk amongst us again," one read and it appeared to speak for the multitude.

When Patricius awoke, he knew that he had his mission on Earth.  He later wrote that it was like he'd been 'stabbed in the heart'.  God had brought him home, but now he had to return to the land of his enslavers.  This time he would be in God's grace and he would take the word of the Lord.

But first he had to break the news to his family.

St Patrick Rosary Bracelets

St Patrick the Priest in Lérins

Patricius was so far behind his friends in just about everything. But he had a way of rising high above it all.

Image: Cistercian MonkIt was several weeks before Patricius could get away.  His family were understandably anxious for him to stay with them. 

His mother wept and begged him on her knees. They would all take some adjusting, and he could make up the education that he'd missed.  It didn't matter that all his peers were so far above him in learning and career now.  It would happen for him too.  He just had to give it time.

His father offered all assistance.  All the support and wealth at his disposal.  Hearts were being broken here.

But the voices went on.  Not just St Victoricus, but Christ himself!  They were demanding that Patricius hark the voice of the Irish.   He had to save them!  

He left home and walked back south, crossing the channel into France.   There he made his way to a Cistercian monastery, in the Lérins Islands, off the coast of Cannes.  At the time, it was called Lerina, and it was here that he would receive both holy orders and a theological education.  The voice of Christ told him so.

Unfortunately, the Abbot of Lerina wasn't quite so convinced.  Patricius must have appeared a haunted figure to him at the time.  His Latin was weak for a Romano-Briton too.  He may have grown up partially speaking and reading it, but his mother tongue was Old Welsh.  He'd spent over half a decade exposed to only Irish Gaelic.  Languages get rusty when they're not used.

One thing which can be definitely deduced about Patricius was that he had the gift of the gab. He would later convert a whole country to Christianity.  In a way, you have to feel sorry for the Lerina Abbot in that particular debate.  Patricius talked him around; yet when the studies began, they probably both had their moments of regretting it.

It was hard work.  Out of formal education for so long, and with his mission calling him, Patricius really had to fight against himself to complete his classes.  The Latin in particular did not come easily.  He would remain so-so at it for the rest of his life.

But he made it through.  Sheer will and determination alone saw to that.  It had taken well over a decade, but he was ordained as a priest.  Only there was one thing, on the very eve of his taking his vows, which really would come back to haunt him later.

St Patrick's Confessio

The Declaration of St Patrick

Nobody but his Confessor will ever know what he did.  Even in his Confessio, in which Patricius told his tale in his own words, the sin is only briefly alluded to.

It can be expected that any man, on the eve of knowing that he is going to be entrusted with people's souls as the intermediary of God himself, will be a little nervous. Much soul seeking must go on.  Every tiny little thing would be mentally brought out and examined.

Yet, for all its brevity and vagueness, the sin really did weigh heavily on Patricius's conscience. He had two choices.  He could tell it publicly, before all of his Christian brethren, and receive absolution that way; or he could tell it privately, so only himself, a monk and God would be any the wiser.

Patricius chose the latter.  The only clue he gave was that it had happened when he was fifteen, the year before his enslavement by the Irish.  Did he secretly believe that it was cause and effect? That becoming a slave had been his punishment?  Maybe.  Probably.  But he was given absolution now.

The First Missionary Bishop in History

After the long, hard slog of learning, Patricius began a fast-track through the Church ranks. It was all in preparation to face the Gaels again.

Image:  St PatrickIt seems a little strange calling Patricius the first Christian missionary amongst those early bishops. The Bible is full of them.  The Vatican is built around the basilica of St Peter, who certainly wasn't there to talk about the weather.

Yet there is something which sets St Patrick apart.  The rest of them indeed traveled far and wide, spreading the Gospel and baptizing converts, but they did so within the Roman Empire. 

To be fair, that was a lot of ground to cover and many miseries and/or martyrdoms were suffered along the way.  But every apostle, bishop, priest, monk, nun and general worshiper had spoken to people in a common tongue.  For all the cultural vagaries all around, they all still traded in the same currency, obeyed the same laws and were ruled by the same emperor.

Patricius went beyond.  Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire.  To those looking from anywhere in the 'civilized' world, the Irish were practically subhuman.  Barbarians. They were so far beyond the Pale, that the Pale hadn't even been built yet.

Patricius wanted to take his mission to people whom many of his peers couldn't really count as Christians, even if they did take the faith.  There were those who found his plans quite offensive.  But he didn't care.

It took him a couple of years to make his plans to leave France, but he was determined to go.  Christ, St Victoricus and a host of Heavenly voices were still urging him on.  And to ease his way, the Abbot arranged another ceremony.

Somewhere between 430 and 432, Father Patricius was anointed as one of the youngest bishops ever.  He was ready to take the road which destiny and God above had provided for him.

At about thirty-eight years old, he was no longer a boy nor a slave.  He was to become St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland.

St Patrick Medallions and Jewelry

Read More in this Series about the Life of St Patrick

Who was St Patrick? Pampered Roman child; shivering, starving slave; learned priest; precociously young bishop; missionary; all of the above.
The third part of the story brings us back to Ireland again. This time Patricius came, not in chains, but of his own free will and volition. He was on a mission from God.
In the final part of St Patrick's story, he takes on those who would really like him to shut up; and takes a stand against slavery.
Updated: 03/10/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/21/2013

Wow, thank you!

And thank you for reading it. :)

FrancesSpiegel on 02/21/2013

This is one of the most interesting things I've read for a long time - thanks for sharing.

JoHarrington on 02/17/2013

My work here is done. :) Glad that you're enjoying it!

Mira on 02/17/2013

On to part three. Love how you weave a good yarn :)

JoHarrington on 02/16/2013

You are picturing it correctly! Though you haven't accounted for the pile of books on the floor too, which I accidentally knocked over getting up last night. Tidy researcher, I am not.

kate on 02/16/2013

lol i can picture your desk now, with you peering over the top at your screen like a chad!

JoHarrington on 02/15/2013

Thank you very much. :)

HollieT on 02/15/2013

Beautifully written and quite inspirational. :)

JoHarrington on 02/14/2013

It'll be coming tomorrow. :D I'd love to knock them all out together, but it's taking some serious research in the middle. My desk is a mess of history and theology books!

Ragtimelil on 02/14/2013

ACK. I need part three! Great story.

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