St. Patrick and his companions stained glass by Dubin-based artist Harry Clarke, early 20th c.
Celts to the Crèche: Day 40
Christmas Eve, December 24
ST. PATRICK OF IRELAND
–March 17, c.492
(Guest Post by Dr. Michelle P. Brown)
Note: I am so honored and grateful to Dr. Michelle P. Brown for providing this St. Patrick of Ireland post that leads us on this final day of our 40 Day Advent pilgrimage into the Crèche in Bethlehem.
Dr. Michelle Brown is Professor Emerita, SAS, University of London; Visiting Professor, University College London; and Visiting Professor, Baylor University. Dr. Brown served as the former Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library in London.
She is the highly respected scholar and author/editor of more than thirty books. She is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles on Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art, culture, and manuscripts. She is particularly known for her excellent and insightful research and writings on the Lindisfarne Gospels (see day 7, “Eadfrith” in Celts to the Crèche) housed in the British Library.
Dr. Brown has also done extensive work on early Biblical manuscripts at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert. She is not only a brilliant author and researcher, but also a person of devoted faith, service, and trust in God. She has served as a Lay Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and is currently a Lay Canon of Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.
How appropriate that Dr. Brown and St. Patrick conclude our 40 Day Celtic Advent pilgrimage as they lead us into the Crèche!
Michelle P. Brown’s Post on St. Patrick Begins
I have always had a special devotion to St Patrick – partly because he is one of my name saints (the P. is for Patricia – I think I may have been supposed to be Michael Patrick and have helped my Irish father in his building business, but instead I build books and faith). My parents were wed on St Patrick’s Day too. Oh yes…he also became the ‘Apostle of Ireland’!
But it takes more than a reputation, however great, and a personal association, to command real love and devotion. That takes special qualities. So, what did Patrick do and what do we know of who he was?
Writings about and by Patrick: As the ‘Apostle of Ireland’, he has attracted tales of great deeds as his reputation has developed. It is thought by scholars that his hagiography incorporates material relating to other early missionaries – notably Palladius (also known as Patrick the Elder) who was sent from Rome in 431 by Pope Celestine I as bishop to those in southern Ireland who were already Christian. Opinion varies as to Patrick’s own dates, but the consensus is that his mission occurred during the second half of the fifth century.
Patrick is mentioned in the Irish annals, which record in 492/3 the death of “Patrick, the arch-apostle (or archbishop and apostle) of the Scoti”, on 17 March, at the age of 120; they seem in places to conflate or confuse him with Palladius. Amongst the lives of Patrick (Latin: Patricius; Irish: Pádraig; Welsh: Padrig; Cornish Petroc) are two early ones in the seventh century: the Collectanea by Tirechán and the Life of St Patrick by Muirchu, both based in part on a lost earlier seventh-century work by Ultan. Patriciana also feature in the Book of Armagh, which also contains the Gospels, which was written in Armagh around 807, perhaps as a ‘replacement’ for one of two books said to have been written by Patrick himself, which became important relics and for which replacements were made whenever earlier books were lost.
Writings attributed to the saint himself include two which scholars agree were actually by him. These are a letter / epistle to a British leader named Coroticus and his soldiers, who had been enslaving irish captives, and Patrick’s personal Confession / Declaration. The Letter to Coroticus implies that the Franks were still pagans at the time of writing and their conversion to Christianity is dated to the period 496–50. Together, these sources paint a picture of a young man brought up in a respectable Christian family (perhaps functioning as local government officials and priests) in the Roman Britain during the turbulent fifth century, when it was cut off (against the will of many of its people) from the western Roman Empire in Europe as the global super-power sank into decadent decay and fragmented. They may have been based in NW Britain, around the western end of the Roman frontier of Hadrian’s Wall (where as late as the 680s St Cuthbert was proudly shown the still-functioning Roman public fountains of Carlisle). Calpurnius, his father, was a decurion and deacon (married to his mother, Conchessa), his grandfather Potitus a priest, from Banna Venta Berniae, a location otherwise unknown, though identified in one tradition as Glannoventa, modern Ravenglass in Cumbria. Another suggested location is the Roman fort of Birdoswald, which was transformed into a post-Roman high-status settlement, later annexed by the Northumbrian Christian king Oswald.
Patrick as slave and missionary: When was about 16 Patrick is said to have been captured by piratical Irish raiders, enslaved and taken to serve as a shepherd or swineherd in NE Ireland. There he says, in the Confession, that he had time to pray and to accept Christ and after six years received a vision, in response to which he escaped and took ship 200 miles away (perhaps in Wicklow, to which he later returned). He may have gone home for a while, but went on to the Continent to Marmoutier, Tours and Auxerre where he was consecrated bishop by St Germanus. He also seems to have studied at the monastery of Lérins, off the southern coast of France, where the eastern desert father John Cassian had taught. This, coupled with the perpetuation of the ancient prehistoric trade routes which linked the Atlantic seaboard of Britain and Ireland to Iberia, N. Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, gave the early Church in post-Roman Britain and Ireland an eastern eremitic flavour, as well as the episcopal and communal monastic traditions of much of Europe, which stemmed from the time of the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Rome in the 380s. Patrick received another vision in which he heard the voice of the Irish crying for his return and he duly sailed to Ireland to convert his captors and share the Gospel (Old English for ‘good news’).
His mission spread from NE Ireland, with its focus upon the monastery he established at Armagh, into other parts of Ireland, which was ruled by a number of kings. He is said to have challenged one such pagan ruler, Loeguire (Leary), by lighting a Pascal fire at Slane as part of his conversion of the ancient high-kingship site of Tara, to replace those of earlier pagan springtime rituals. He was often strident in his dealings with paganism and reactionary rulers and is also credited with expelling snakes – a potent symbol of many early pagan religions, as the Genesis story of the serpent in the garden of Eden references when it makes it the symbol of evil. The serpents attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a high place. This recalls Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and also the account of the staffs of Moses and Aaron opposing Pharaoh’s sorcerers (Exodus 7:8–7:13). Aaron’s staff turned into a serpent and prevailed and the raising of the brazen serpent in the wilderness was seen as a precursor, in Christian theology, to the raising of Christ on the Cross which defeated sin. One tale of St Patrick has his staff turn into a living tree (which would take root if the congregation took too long to react), referencing the Cross / Tree of Life. Pilgrimages take place to Station Island in Lough Derg, Co. Donegal, where Patrick is said to have defeated a mighty serpent, and to this day, many pilgrims climb mighty Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, on the last Sunday in July. Some ascend in penance, going barefoot or on their knees across the sharp scree.
So, Patrick is credited with turfing out evil and reinterpreting old traditions by illuming them through the light of the new faith which he did so much to spread throughout Ireland and back into Britain. Brave deeds, and yet his own writings reveal that he suffered from friendly fire during his dangerous and demanding work. Fellow Christians in the hierarchy of the early British Church back home appear to have criticised him for not being learned enough for the role of primate of the emerging church in Ireland – with Armagh vying for primacy with St Columba’s monastic federation and St Brigid’s Kildare. Together this triumvirate are known as ‘the Saints of Ireland’. Their influence was widespread and some of their relics were early located at Glastonbury in SW Britain, where Irish missionaries were helping to strengthen the Christianity that had taken root there in Roman times.
His British clerical critics also levelled charges of simony at Patrick, accusing him of accepting gifts, especially from the royal and noble women he persuaded to convert and become nuns, although he expressly denies doing so in his Confession and may rather have been encouraging them to relinquish their wealth and lifestyle. He also seems to have urged the enslaved and the poor to enter monastic life, which speaks against any venal motives. His encouragement of female monastic vocation may have had something to do with the rise of the phenomenon of double houses of monks and nuns living in parallel, which are also encountered in early Anglo-Saxon England and areas of interaction in northern France.
Patrick’s travels around Ireland: Patrick tells us that he travelled around Ireland, baptising many thousands of people and ordaining priests. His ministry to the female relatives and sons of kings posed a threat to the status quo and may have fuelled high-level secular resistance from kings and the druids – a professional pagan priesthood. Murchiú’s Lifecontains a druidic prophecy:
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.”
Patrick’s preaching and poetry: Despite his detractors, Patrick’s Confession reveals a mature and empathetic Christian mind, which makes up in spirit what it may lack in literary style. His preaching style would have been clear and visual, if the tale of his explaining the concept of the indivisibility of the Trinity by likening it to the three-leaved shamrock plant is to be believed. This legend first appears in writing in an 18th-century source, but may be older. The whirling threefold spiral (triskele) featured in pre-Christian and Christian Celtic art and may have fuelled the analogy. The poetry of Celtic Britain and Ireland also sounded in his soul, if his famous Lorica (breastplate of prayer), also known as ‘the Deer’s Cry’ was actually composed by him. It is still sung in worship today, as Christian’s gird themselves with the power of the Trinity. A concern with Nature and the environment pervades it, stemming from an indigenous sense of the little place of self within the bigger picture of Creation.
Patrick’s Attributes and Patronage: In addition to being one of the three patron saints, and Apostle, of Ireland, Patrick’s patronage embraces Ireland, Nigeria, Montserrat, Archdiocese of New York,Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Boston, Rolla, Missouri, Loíza, Puerto Rico, Murcia(Spain), Clann Giolla Phádraig. He is patron saint of engineers, paralegals, and of the Archdiocese of Melbourne; he is invoked against snakes and evil / sin.
It is claimed that among his many foundations, Patrick established a church at Armagh, Co. Armagh, and proclaimed it to be the most holy church in Ireland. Armagh is today the primary seat of both the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland, and both cathedrals in the town are named after Patrick.
Where Patrick is buried: Patrick is said to be buried, along with Sts Columba and Brigid, at Downpatrick, Co. Down (from Irish Dún Pádraig, meaning “Patrick’s stronghold”) in the grounds of Down Cathedral; some of their collective relics are also said to reside at Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset.
The Deer’s Cry or St Patrick’s Lorica (Breastplate), 5thcentury, from Early Irish Lyric Poetry, Translated by Kuno Meyer
Patrick sang this hymn when King Loeguire (Leary) pronounced that he might not evangelise Tara. It seemed to those lying in ambush that he and his monks were wild deer with a fawn.
I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise to-day
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of Doom.
I arise to-day
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise to day
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.
I summon to-day all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
The Rune of St Patrick
This translation of the “The Faedh Fiada” from The Book of Hymns (11th century) is by Charles Mangan.
At Tara to-day in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.
Feast Day, 17thMarch
Patrick was eloquent on the unity of the Three in One and he recognized and rejoiced in the imminent wonder, glory and power of its Creation, Yet, as we take our final steps towards the creche we can join with Patrick, the shepherd, in the recognition that it is as the vulnerable Christ-child – God among us, at the mercy of miscreant mankind –that we encounter the ability to be reborn into reconciliation with our eternal Father / Mother. As Patrick, the free slave, chose in obedience to return to save his captors, so Christ took the form of a servant, even unto death on a cross(‘But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.’Philippians 2.7-8), to effect that reconciliation and to restore the harmony of Creator and Creation. Like Patrick we can gird ourselves with the breastplate of faith in that wondrous truth and embrace lives of selfless service through love, at Christmas and always. Amen!
Cahill, Thomas(1995). How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Doubleday.
Charles-Edwards, T.M.(2000). Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dark, Ken(2000). Britain and the End of the Roman Empire. Stroud: Tempus.
De Paor, Liam (1993). Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Duffy, Seán, ed. (1997). Atlas of Irish History. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan.
Dumville, David M. (1993). Saint Patrick, AD 493–1993. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.
Dumville, David(1994). “The Death Date of St. Patrick”. In Howlett, David. The Book of Letters of Saint Patrick the Bishop. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Flechner, Roy (2011). “Patrick’s Reasons for Leaving Britain”. In Russell, Edmonds. Tome: Studies in Medieval Celtic History and Law in Honour of Thomas Charles-Edwards. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
Hood, A.B.E. (1978). St. Patrick: his Writings, and Muirchú’s Life. London and Chichester: Phillimore.
Iannello, Fausto (2013), “Notes and Considerations on the Importance of St. Patrick’s Epistola ad Milites Corotici as a Source on the Origins of Celtic Christianity and Sub-Roman Britain”. Imago Temporis. Medium Aevum 7 2013: 97–137
McCaffrey, Carmel(2003). In Search of Ancient Ireland. Chicago: Ivan R Dee.
Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí(1995). Early Medieval Ireland: 400–1200. London: Longman.
O’Loughlin, Thomas(1999). “Saint Patrick: The Man and his Works”. London: S.P.C.K.
O’Loughlin, Thomas (2005). “Discovering Saint Patrick”. New York: Orbis.
O’Loughlin, Thomas (2007). Nagy, J. F., ed. The Myth of Insularity and Nationality in Ireland. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp. 132–140.
O’Rahilly, T. F.(1942). The Two Patricks: A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-Century Ireland. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
Stancliffe, Claire (2004). “Patrick (fl. 5th cent.)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
Thomas, Charles(1981). Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500. London: Batsford.
Thompson, E.A. (1980). Caird, G.B.; Chadwick, Henry, eds. “St. Patrick and Coroticus”. The Journal of Theological Studies. 31: 12–27.
White, Newport J.D. (1920). St. Patrick, His Writings and Life. New York: Macmillan.
Saint Patrick’s Confessio Hypertext Stack as published by the Royal Irish Academy Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (DMLCS) freely providing digital scholarly editions of Saint Patrick’s writings as well as translations and digital facsimiles of all extant manuscript copies.
St. Patrick’s Pilgrimage. St. Patrick’s Centre.
History Hub.ie: Saint Patrick – Historical Man and Popular Myth by Elva Johnston (University College Dublin)
Concluding thoughts on this 2020 Celtic Advent Pilgrimage. Thank you for journeying with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints throughout this Advent pilgrimage. It has been a joy to meet so many other pilgrims along the way who are also interested in these saints. It is my sincere hope and prayer that you have reacquainted yourself with some saints you may have already known and in turn have made some new friends along the way that live on the other side of the thin, almost gossamer veil. I am touched that you have taken time each day to read Celts to the Crèche and to contemplate and pray during this Advent season. May we continue to grow in our life pilgrimage with the triune God of the Universe surrounded by the watch-care of the Angels and the cheering on by the Communion of Saints.
May we all have a Merry Christmas and a very blessed New Year of 2021! May 2021 be better than this past year. May healing from COVID-19 come quickly. May the peace of Christ fill our world that has been in chaos in recent years, especially this past year. May the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints be with us as we continue to pilgrimage along the path of our life journey.
Again, thank you for being part of this pilgrimage. It has been an honor and a joy to pilgrimage with you. If you have pilgrimaged along with the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints please drop me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know if any one or two of the saints became a new soul friend to you.
Rev. Brenda G. Warren