History of St. Patrick
|Saint Patrick’s first encounter with Ireland revealed a nation who was unaware of Christianity or thought of Christianity as an alien faith. Saint Patrick had a great compassion for Christianity and he also possessed an ability to hold on to what is essential about Christianity. He was able to draw people to the faith by offering a more open and welcoming aspect of the faith to them.
Saint Patrick understood the Celtic people. Being a romanized Briton his real name was Magonus Saccatus Patricius. St. Patrick’s father had been a deacon and a decurion and his grandfather was a priest. The Romans had not yet fully pulled out of Britain, so Patrick grew up in a world whose mores and Christianity were provincial Roman, in an area which never lost its Celtic identity and customs. St. Patrick had already become familiar with the Celtic festivals of the pre-Christian calendar before he was taken into Irish slavery. Even though Patrick’s family had been ordained they did not seem to have a passion for their work. St. Patrick himself even describes to us as being rather indifferent to it as a youth.
At the age of sixteen St. Patrick’s life changed. He was abducted and taken into Irish slavery. During his six years of enslavement he developed a life of prayer. Patrick even credits God for his escape from slavery. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, whose main religious background was Roman. The story follows:
Around the year 400, Patrick was born in Scotland. When Patrick was sixteen years old he was captured as a slave by the high king of Ireland. He was sold in Ireland and was taken to the North east of the country to herd sheep. During his six years of solitude he found a life of prayer and pledged his life to God. One night Patrick had a vision and he escaped from slavery and found his way home to his family. Patrick studied religion for many years to become a priest and a missionary and at night he would hear in his dreams the call from the Irish. They called him to come and free them from paganism, “crying to thee, come hither and walk with us once more”. Finally Pope Celestine fulfilled Saint Patrick’s wish and ordained him as bishop to preach the word of God to the Celtic People. Saint Patrick then came back to Ireland to help teach the word of God. He helped to build churches and he baptised the pagans into Christianity, he also ordained bishops and priests but this did not come without difficulty.
As legend tells us of Saint Patrick lighting the Easter bonfire at Slane hill, it portraits some of the difficulty which Patrick had to face. On Easter night long ago it was forbidden to light any other fire in Ireland until after the lighting of the High King’s own bonfire. When the High King saw that Saint Patrick was lighting the fire he sent a warband to kill the Saint and quench the fire. But the fire could not be quenched and Saint Patrick and his followers passed the warriors in disguise of a herd of deer and they went onto defeat the royal druids at Tara in a contest of miracle working. Many of the King’s court bowed down to Saint Patrick and were converted, even though the High King was not one of these he did grant the Saint free speech and the right to preach freely to the people of Ireland.
Another one of the stories told to us about Saint Patrick is the one where he went to the royal center at sunrise and here he found the King’s two daughters, Eithne and Fedelm. The two girls questioned Patrick about God and they listened attentively to what he had to say, Patrick recited the Holy Creed to them then they wished to be baptised and Patrick did so. Upon receiving the sacrament the two girls died and were buried there.
Another tale about Saint Patrick tells us of him coming to a Neolithic tomb thought to be a “giant’s grave”. To satisfy his followers’ curiosity, Saint Patrick raised the giant from the dead and baptised him, and then returned him to his grave.
As time past Saint Patrick and his followers spread the word of God around the country. They fasted and prayed at the top of what is now Croagh Patrick. Patrick made a promise to God on that day that the people of Ireland would keep their faith until the end of time and the day they did not keep their faith would be the day of doom.
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