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St. Patrick

St. Patrick by Brenda Nippert

Artist Narrative:

We are not sure where or when Patrick was born or what year he died. We do know that he was not Irish, and was captured by raiders as a teenager and sold into slavery. He was left alone to tend the sheep in Ireland's rocky hills with little food or shelter. Any dreams and plans he had for his life had been dashed. He was stuck in an awful situation with no hope, but here's the wonderful thing about Patrick: he trusted that God had a different plan for him and just went with it. As he tended the sheep in that desolate Pagan place, he became consumed with love for God and opened himself completely to the mission He was preparing him for.

With God's help, Patrick escaped and returned to his parents. He studied to become a priest and quickly rose to a great level in the Church. In his dreams, he heard the voices of the people of Ireland begging him to return to their land. He knew his mission was to bring Christ to that Pagan nation. The Druids were not about to let their people be led away from their false gods, but Patrick was not afraid because he knew God was with him.

Now a Bishop, he returned to the Emerald Isle and spent the rest of his life facing down the Pagan Chieftains in their own backyard. Time after time, he won over the Irish people and their leaders, baptized thousands, and built churches, schools, and monasteries. He left an indelible mark on the world. It doesn’t matter that we don't have all of the historical facts. What really matters is that a man named Patrick put himself at God's disposal, and single handedly started a chain reaction that turned a Pagan nation into a Christian people who are still known the world over for their deep faith.

His feast day is March 17.

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The history of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who was born in the second half of the 4th century, is inevitably sketchy. Even his year of birth is uncertain, with some scholars hitting on 373 while others calculate 390.

Similarly, the place where St Patrick was born cannot be confirmed.

It is known that he was raised near a village called Banna Vemta Burniae but its location cannot be identified. It may have been lowland Scotland but is equally likely to have been Wales, which was under Roman control at the time.

Patrick's real name was probably Maewyn Succat. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon.

Despite this family involvement in the church, the young Patrick was not a believer. His life was ordinary, and completely unexceptional, until the age of 16.

But dramatic events then occurred which set the history of St Patrick, and the history of Ireland, on a new course.

The kidnapped shepherd
The young lad was kidnapped, along with many others, by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. According to his autobiographical Confessio, which survives, the next six years were spent imprisoned in the north of the island and he worked as a herdsmen of sheep and pigs on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim.

During this period, he became increasingly religious. He considered his kidnapping and imprisonment as a punishment for his lack of faith and spent a lot of time in prayer.

After a vision led him to stow away on a boat bound for Britain, Patrick escaped back to his family.

There he had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. This inspired him to return to Ireland as a priest, but not immediately. At this point he didn't feel adequately prepared for a life as a missionary. His studies took him to France where he was trained in a monastery, possibly under St Germain, the bishop of Auxerre, and he dedicated this period of his life to learning. It was some 12 years before he returned to Irish shores as a bishop sent with the Pope's blessing.

Ireland's apostle
The next chapter of the history of St Patrick is better known than his earlier life. He landed at Strangford Loch, Co. Down. Although he is often credited with having brought Christianity to Ireland, he was not the first to have done so.

An earlier mission had seen Palladius preach to the Irish.

Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing. The history of St Patrick is littered with periods of imprisonment when his teachings had upset local chieftains or Celtic Druids, but he always escaped or gained freedom by presenting his captors with gifts.

For twenty years he travelled the length and breadth of the island, baptizing people and establishing monasteries, schools and churches as he went.

By the time he died, on 17 March 461 (or 493, depending on which date you started your calculation), he left behind an organized church, the see of Armagh, and an island of Christians. This date – 17 March – has been commemorated as St Patrick's Day ever since.

He was buried either in Downpatrick, Co Down, or in Armagh.