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St. Patrick Patron Saint of Ireland

The Life and Legend of the Patron Saint of Ireland


St. Patrick

St. Patrick


Dates: born c. 390; fl. c. 457 or c. 493

Patrick's father, Calpornius, held both civic and clerical offices when Patrick was born to him in the late fourth century (c. A.D. 390). Although the family lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniaei, in Roman Britain, Patrick would one day become the most successful Christian missionary in Ireland, its patron saint, and the subject of legends.

Patrick's first encounter with the land to which he would devote his life was an unpleasant one. He was kidnapped at age sixteen, sent to Ireland (around County Mayo), and sold into slavery. While Patrick worked there as a shepherd, he developed a deep faith in God. One night, during his sleep, he was sent a vision of how to escape. So much he tells us in his autobiographical Confession.

Unlike the work of the same name by the theologian, Augustine, Patrick's Confession is short, with few statements of religious doctrine. In it Patrick describes his British youth and his conversion, for, although he was born to Christian parents, he did not consider himself Christian before his captivity. Another purpose of the document was to defend himself to the very Church that had sent him to Ireland to convert his former captors. Years before Patrick wrote his Confession, he wrote an angry Letter to Coroticus, the British King of Alcluid (later called Strathclyde), in which he condemns him and his soldiers as compatriots of the demons, because they had captured and slaughtered many of the Irish people Bishop Patrick had just baptized. Those they didn't kill would be sold to "heathen" Picts and Scots. Although personal, emotional, religious, and biographical, these two pieces and Gildas Bandonicus' Concerning the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae) provide the main historical sources for fifth century Britain.

Upon Patrick's escape from his approximately six years of slavery, he went back to Britain, and then to Gaul where he studied under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre, for twelve years before returning again to Britian. There he felt a calling to return as a missionary to Ireland. He stayed in Ireland for another thirty years, converting, baptizing, and setting up monasteries.


Sub-Roman Britain: An Introduction
Christopher Snyder looks at the sources for early Britain, particularly in the writings of Patrick and Gildas.

Gildas: from Concerning the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae)
From Medieval Sourcebook, chapters 23-26 of Gildas' work on the fall of Britain.

Ecole Glossary entry on Gildas the Wise who was born c. 500 in Arecluta, Strathclyde, and traveled in Ireland, besides writing his history of the Celts in Britain.

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