The available evidence does not allow the dates of Patrick's life to be fixed with certainty, but it appears that he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. Two letters from him survive, along with later hagiographies from the seventh century onwards. Many of these works cannot be taken as authentic traditions. Uncritical acceptance of the Annals of Ulster (see below) would imply that he lived from 373 to 493, and ministered in northern Ireland from 433 onwards.
Most modern studies of Saint Patrick follow a variant of T. F. O'Rahilly's "Two Patricks" theory. That is to say, many of the traditions later attached to Saint Patrick originally concerned Palladius, a deacon from Gaul who came to Ireland, perhaps sent by Pope Celestine I (died 431). Palladius was not the only early cleric in Ireland at this time. Saints Auxilius, Secundus and Iserninus are associated with early churches in Munster and Leinster. By this reading, Palladius was active in Ireland until the 460s.
Prosper of Aquitaine's contemporary chronicle states:
Palladius was ordained by Pope Celestine and sent to the Irish believers in Christ as their first bishop.
Prosper associates this with the visits of Germanus of Auxerre to Britain to suppress the Pelagian heresy and it has been suggested that Palladius and his colleagues were sent to Ireland to ensure that exiled Pelagians did not establish themselves among the Irish Christians. The appointment of Palladius and his fellow-bishops was not obviously a mission to convert the Irish, but more probably intended to minister to existing Christian communities in Ireland. The sites of churches associated with Palladius and his colleagues are close to royal centres of the period: Secundus is remembered by Dunshaughlin, County Meath, close to the Hill of Tara which is associated with the High King of Ireland; Kilashee, County Kildare, close to Naas with links with the Kings of Leinster, is probably named for Auxilius. This activity was limited to the southern half of Ireland, and there is no evidence for them in Ulster or Connacht.
Although the evidence for contacts with Gaul is clear, the borrowings from Latin into the Old Irish language show that links with former Roman Britain were many. Saint Iserninus, who appears to be of the generation of Palladius, is thought to have been a Briton, and is associated with the lands of the Uí Cheinnselaig in Leinster. The Palladian mission should not be contrasted with later "British" missions, but forms a part of them.
Patrick in his own words
Two Latin letters survive which are generally accepted to have been written by Patrick. These are the Declaration (Latin: Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin: Epistola). The Declaration is the more important of the two. In it Patrick gives a short account of his life and his mission.
Patrick was born at Banna Venta Berniae, Calpornius his father was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest. When he was about sixteen, he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland. Patrick worked as a herdsman, remaining a captive for six years. He writes that his faith grew in captivity, and that he prayed daily. After six years he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he travelled to a port, two hundred miles away he says, where he found a ship and, after various adventures, returned home to his family, now in his early twenties.
Patrick recounts that he had a vision a few years after returning home:
I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "The Voice of the Irish". As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.
Much of the Declaration concerns charges made against Patrick by his fellow Christians at a trial. What these charges were, he does not say explicitly, but he writes that he returned the gifts which wealthy women gave him, did not accept payment for baptisms, nor for ordaining priests, and indeed paid for many gifts to kings and judges, and paid for the sons of chiefs to accompany him. It is concluded, therefore, that he was accused of some sort of financial impropriety, and perhaps of having obtained his bishopric in Ireland with personal gain in mind.
From this same evidence, something can be seen of Patrick's mission. He writes that he "baptised thousands of people". He ordained priests to lead the new Christian communities. He converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in the face of family opposition. He also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.
Patrick's position as a foreigner in Ireland was not an easy one. His refusal to accept gifts from kings placed him outside the normal ties of kinship, fosterage and affinity. Legally he was without protection, and he says that he was on one occasion beaten, robbed of all he had, and put in chains, perhaps awaiting execution.
Murchiú's life of Saint Patrick contains a supposed prophecy by the druids which gives an impression of how Patrick and other Christian missionaries were seen by those hostile to them:
Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,
his cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.
He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;
all his people will answer: "so be it, so be it."
The second piece of evidence from Patrick's life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. In this, Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated certain British soldiers of Coroticus who have raided in Ireland, along with Picts and Irishmen, taking some of Patrick's converts into slavery. Coroticus, based largely on an 8th century gloss , is taken to be King Ceretic of Alt Clut. It has been suggested that it was the sending of this letter which provoked the trial which Patrick mentions in the Confession.
Dating Patrick's life and mission
According to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals, Patrick died in AD 493, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940s it was believed without doubt that he died in 461 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century. A lecture entitled "The Two Patricks", published in 1942 by T. F. O'Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had been two "Patricks", Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to meld the two into one hagiographic personality. Decades of contention eventually ended with most historians now asserting that Patrick was indeed most likely to have been active in the mid-to-late 5th century.
While Patrick's own writings contain no dates, they do contain information which can be used to date them. Patrick's quotations from the Acts of the Apostles follow the Vulgate, strongly suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early fifth century. Patrick also refers to the Franks as being pagan. Their conversion is dated to the period 496–508.
The compiler of the Annals of Ulster stated that in the year 553:
I have found this in the Book of Cuanu: The relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille. Three splendid halidoms were found in the burial-place: his goblet, the Angel's Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the angel distributed the halidoms: the goblet to Dún, the Bell of the Testament to Ard Macha, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum Cille himself. The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is that Colum Cille received it from the hand of the angel.
The reputed burial place of St. Patrick in Downpatrick
The placing of this event in the year 553 would certainly seem to place Patrick's death in 493, or at least in the early years of that decade, and indeed the Annals of Ulster report in 493:
Patrick, arch-apostle, or archbishop and apostle of the Irish, rested on the 16th of the Kalends of April in the 120th year of his age, in the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptize the Irish.
There is also the additional evidence of his disciple, Mochta, who died in 535.
St. Patrick is said to be buried under Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. The Battle for the Body of St. Patrick demonstrates the importance of both him as a spiritual leader, and of his body as an object of veneration, in early Christian Ireland.
An early document which is silent concerning Patrick is the letter of Columbanus to Pope Boniface IV of about 613. Columbanus writes that Ireland's Christianity "was first handed to us by you, the successors of the holy apostles", apparently referring to Palladius only, and ignoring Patrick. Writing on the Easter controversy in 632 or 633, Cummian—it is uncertain whether this is the Cummian associated with Clonfert or Cumméne of Iona— does refer to Patrick, calling him our papa, that is pope or primate.
Two works by early hagiographers of Patrick have survived. These are the writings of Tirechan, and of Muirchu moccu Machtheni. Both writers relied upon an earlier work, now lost, the Book of Ultán. This Ultán, probably the same person as Ultan of Ardbraccan, was Tirechan's foster-father. His obituary is given in the Annals of Ulster under the year 657. These works thus date from a century and a half after Patrick's death.
"I found four names for Patrick written in the book of Ultán, bishop of the tribe of Conchobar: holy Magonus (that is, "famous"); Succetus (that is, the god of war); Patricius (that is, father of the citizens); Cothirtiacus (because he served four houses of druids)."
Muirchu records much the same information, adding that "[h]is mother was named Concessa."
The Patrick portrayed by Tirechan and Muirchu is a martial figure, who contests with druids, overthrows pagan idols, and curses kings and kingdoms. On occasions their accounts contradict Patrick's own writings: Tirechan states that Patrick accepted gifts from female converts although Patrick himself flatly denies this. However, the emphasis Tirechan and Muirchu placed on female converts, and in particular royal and noble women who became nuns, is thought to be a genuine insight into Patrick's work of conversion. Patrick also worked with the unfree and the poor, encouraging them to vows of monastic chastity. Tirechan's account suggests that many early Patrician churches were combined with nunneries founded by Patrick's noble female converts.
The martial Patrick found in Tirechan and Muirchu, and in later accounts, echoes similar figures found during the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. It may be doubted whether such accounts are an accurate representation of Patrick's time, although such violent events may well have occurred as Christians gained in strength and numbers.
Much of the detail supplied by Tirechan and Muirchu, in particular the churches established by Patrick, and the monasteries founded by his converts, may relate to the situation in the seventh century, when the churches which claimed ties to Patrick, and in particular Armagh, were expanding their influence throughout Ireland in competition with the church of Kildare. In the same period, Wilfred, Archbishop of York, claimed to speak, as metropolitan archbishop, "for all the northern part of Britain and of Ireland" at a council held in Rome in the time of Pope Agatho, thus claiming jurisdiction over the Irish church.
Other presumed early materials include the Irish annals, which contain records from the Chronicle of Ireland. These sources have conflated Palladius and Patrick. Another early document is the so-called First Synod of Saint Patrick. This is a seventh century document, once, but no longer, taken as to contain a fifth century original text. It apparently collects the results of several early synods, and represents an era when pagans were still a major force in Ireland. The introduction attributes it to Patrick, Auxilius, and Iserninus, a claim which "cannot be taken at face value".
Patrick in legend
The Shamrock Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, though post-glacial Ireland never actually had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place, as shown for instance on coins minted in Gaul (see Carnutes), or that it could have referred to beliefs such as Pelagianism, symbolized as “serpents”. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian belief of 'three divine persons in the one God' (as opposed to the Arian belief that was popular in Patrick's time). Whether or not these legends are true, the very fact that there are so many legends about Patrick shows how important his ministry was to Ireland. Some Irish legends involve the Oilliphéist, the Caoránach, and the Copóg Phádraig.
The 12th century work Acallam na Senórach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Caílte mac Rónáin and Oisín, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill's warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick's time. They travel with the saint and tell him their stories.
Sainthood and Remembrance
March 17, popularly known as St. Patrick's Day, is believed to be his death date (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica) and is the date celebrated as his feast day. The day became a feast day in the universal church due to the influence of the Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding, as a member of the commission for the reform of the Breviary in the early part of the 17th century.
For most of Christianity's first thousand years, canonisations were done on the diocesan or regional level. Relatively soon after the death of people considered to be very holy people, the local Church affirmed that they could be liturgically celebrated as saints. As a result, St. Patrick has never been formally canonised by a Pope, but he is still widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today.
St. Patrick is also venerated in the Orthodox Church, especially among English-speaking Orthodox Christians living in the United Kingdom and Ireland and in North America. There are even Orthodox icons dedicated to him.
*From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
And you thought is was a bunch 'o blarney!, hehe