The History of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick in Ireland

It is difficult to sort fact from fiction in the history of Saint Patrick. He lived so long ago that fact has turned to legend and legend has turned to myth. In the legend of Saint Patrick I tell of the mythical Saint. Here I will try to stick with the facts generally agreed upon by modern scholars. A little more history can be found with the prayers of St Patrick

The Birth of Saint Patrick (Succath)

In my research of the history of Saint Patrick his birth date is hard to pin down. It is believed he was born sometime between the years 376 and 405 near the Firth of Clyde in Northern Britain (Scotland). His birth name was Succath. Britain was part of the Roman Empire at that time. His father was Calphurnius, a deacon, son of Potitus, who was a priest. His mother was Conchessa from Gaul. She was originally sold by her father into slavery to Calphurnius. Calphurnius fell in love with Conchessa, released her from slavery, and married her. It is believed that Conchessa was either the sister or the niece of St. Martin of Tours in Gaul. Succath may have had two sisters, one with the name Lupita.

Succath in Slavery

When Succath was 16 years old Irish raiders captured him and his two sisters. They were all sold into slavery in Ireland. He didn't know where his sisters were sent. He was sold to four men as a shepherd. Later one of the men Milcho MacCuboin bought out the shares of the other three men.

Succath remained a slave for six years. He believed his slavery was punishment for not believing in a living God as a child. The history of Saint Patrick states after all these years tending sheep alone on Slemish Mountain in Antrim, Succath came to believe in God.

In "The Confession of Saint Patrick" written by Saint Patrick in 455 he writes of his ordeal.

"But after I had come to Ireland, I was daily tending sheep, and I prayed frequently during the day, and the love of God, and His faith and fear, increased in me more and more, and the spirit was stirred; so that in a single day I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same; so that I remained in the woods, and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer, in snow, and ice, and rain, and I felt no injury from it, nor was there any slothfulness in me, as I see now, because the spirit was then fervent in me."

Later a voice said to him "Behold, thy ship is ready." After which he walked about two hundred miles and found a ship that took him away from his captivity. The ship landed on the shores of Britain, but not near his home. On his way to the Firth of Clyde he was enslaved again. This time it only lasted sixty days.

The Education of Saint Patrick

This is where the history of Saint Patrick becomes a little cloudy.

He was back in Britain at the home of his parents when he had a vision. He relates this in his "Confession";

"And there I saw, in the midst of the night, a man who appeared to come from Ireland, whose name was Victorious, and he had innumerable letters with him, one of which he gave to me; and I read the commencement of the epistle containing "The Voice of the Irish"; and as I read aloud the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard in my mind the voice of those who were near the wood of Focluti, which is near the western sea; and they cried out: "We entreat thee, holy youth, to come and walk still amongst us." And my heart was greatly touched, so that I could not read any more, and so I awoke."

After his vision he went to Gaul and studied with his relative Saint Martin of Tours for a time. Later he studied with Saint Germaine of Auxerre. Where he studied for four years. He eventually made his way to Rome. He was baptized by Pope Celestine with the name Patrick. He left Rome to begin his mission of converting the Irish to Christianity. On his way through Gaul, He was consecrated a Bishop, by Bishop Amathus. This made Patrick the first missionary Bishop.

In my research of the history of Saint Patrick, this seems like the logical order of events in Patrick's religious education.

Patrick arrives in Ireland

Patrick landed on the east coast of Ireland in 432.

(Note: This date seems to be the only one agreed upon by scholars on the history of Saint Patrick. The date of his birth and death is much debated. The age given at his death is somewhere between 85 and 120 years old.)

Patrick landed near Stranford Lough in the ancient district of Magh-Inis now Downpatrick in Northeastern Ireland. He and his companions were at first mistaken for pirates by the lord of the soil Dicho. Dicho upon meeting Patrick saw there was nothing to fear and invited Patrick and his companions to his house. Dicho became Patrick's first Irish convert. He was also the first to build a Christian church. The monastery was known as Saul. A place Patrick returned to many times in his life.

Patrick next tried to visit the home of his old master. But Milcho on hearing of the coming of his former slave set fire to his own house. Milcho died in the fire. Apparently, he didn't want his slave to become his master.

The history of Saint Patrick shows his approach to converting the Irish was different than any of his predecessors. While the others considered the local Pagan beliefs as antichristian and evil, Patrick used the Pagan beliefs by blending them with Christian beliefs to entice the Irish to convert. A good example of this is how Patrick used the shamrock to teach of the holy trinity. At the time it was the Pagan symbol for Spring.

Celtic Cross

Another example is the Celtic cross. This combines the Christian symbol of the cross with the Pagan symbol of the Sun.

The method used by Patrick was that he converted the Kings and Chiefs first, knowing that their followers would soon convert.

Within 200 years of Saint Patrick's arrival in Ireland the whole country was converted to Christianity.

Saint Patrick's Death

According to the history of Saint Patrick he died sometime between the years 460 and 493 on March 17th. He died where he made his first convert at the monastery Saul. Some believe Saint Brigid another Irish patron Saint was present at his death.

This is just a brief outline of the history of Saint Patrick. I could go on and on for you, but I like to keep things short.

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