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March 18, 2006

St Patrick for Ireland

Yesterday was the Feast of St Patrick and those in New York, Sydney and a number of other cities with large populations who associate themselves most closely with the country he converted to Christianity, will have enjoyed a huge "bash" and probably have woken today to a bit of a hangover!

Saint Patrick (or Padraig, Petroc and several other variants!) must have been a very interesting and forceful man in many ways. Legends tell us that he cursed all manner of people and things, from the tips of bullrushes (as a hayfever sufferer I do that regularly!) to snakes and other men and animals. Even some of the Kings were not proof against his wrath if the legends are to be believed. In fact, the legends make him out to be an almost fearsome figure, storming about the land smiting, cursing and seemingly always in a foul mood! Yet, these legends hardly accord with a man who has left such an indelible mark and whose contempories and disciples regarded with such affection and awe.

In recent years almost everyone from John O'Groats to Land's End has tried to establish a claim to be his birthplace and we do know quite a bit about his early life from various sources, but primarily from the two surviving documents that can authentically be traced to him and his authorship - the "Confessio" and his letter to the Welsh King Caratacus. Born of well to do Christian parents, his grandfather a priest and his father a deacon, the young Patrick seems to have been a bit of a rebel. Captured in his early teens, presumably while being somewhere or doing something he should not have been/done, he was carried off to Ireland and sold into slavery somewhere in the North Western corner of the island. His journey into faith and to becoming possibly the most successful missionary in the Western hemisphere, makes a fascinating study.

His successful escape from his slavery was largely due to his ability to work with and control the fierce dogs Ireland then exported to Europe as guard dogs - the huge Irish Wolfhounds of antiquity. Hounds which had a man killing reputation and which could take down wolves and defend any estate extremely effectively. The Vikings used them, the Gauls used them and they were even used in Byzantium and Rome itself.

He was not the church's first choice as missionary Bishop, in his own words, being "most unlearned". The Holy See wanted someone with a less colourful and more learned background as it's ambassador to the Irish. However, the first missionary selected went and came swiftly back, opening the way for Patrick. He wasn't universally welcomed, indeed, many of Ireland's "Kings" made life very tough for him, but his sheer doggedness and his unfailing acceptance of whatever they did to him, threw at him and to his followers intrigued them, and eventually won their grudging admiration and finally their hearts. It certainly left a mark on the nation and his legacy is with us still.

One does wonder though, what the Saint himself would have thought of the binges that usually mark his feast day outside of the island nation he won so surely for Christ.

Posted by The Gray Monk at March 18, 2006 07:21 AM

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