Saint Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the "Apostle of Ireland", he is the primary patron saint of the island along with Saints Brigit and Columba.
The dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty but, on a widespread interpretation, he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the fifth century. He is generally credited with being the first bishop of Armagh, Primate of Ireland.
When he was about 16, he was captured from his home in Great Britain, and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland. In later life, he served as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick's Day is observed on 17 March, the date of his death.
It is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation; it is also a celebration of Ireland itself.
St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Calpornius, his father, was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest, from Banna Venta Berniae, a location otherwise unknown, though identified in one tradition as Glannoventa, modern Ravenglass in Cumbria, England; claims have been advanced for locations in both Scotland and Wales.
Patrick, however, was not an active believer. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, at the age of just sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. The raiders brought Patrick to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. Patrick writes in The Confession that the time he spent in captivity was critical to his spiritual development. He explains that the Lord had mercy on his youth and ignorance, and afforded him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins and converted to Christianity. While in captivity, Saint Patrick worked as a shepherd and strengthened his relationship with God through prayer eventually leading him to convert to Christianity.
After six years of captivity 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, where he found a ship and with difficulty persuaded the captain to take him. After three days sailing they landed, presumably in Britain, and apparently all left the ship, walking for 28 days in a "wilderness", becoming faint from hunger before encountering a herd of wild boar; since this was shortly after Patrick had urged them to put their faith in God, his prestige in the group was greatly increased. After various adventures, he returned home to his family, now in his early twenties. After returning home to Britain, Saint Patrick continued to study Christianity.
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."
A. B. E. Hood suggests that the Victoricus of St. Patrick's vision may be identified with Saint Victricius, bishop of Rouen in the late fourth century, who had visited Britain in an official capacity in 396.
Acting on the vision, Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. According to J.B Bury, his landing place was Wicklow, Co Wicklow, at the mouth of the river Inver-dea, which is now called the Vartry. Tradition has it that St Patrick was not welcomed by the locals and was forced to leave to seek a more welcoming landing place further north. J.B Bury suggests that Wicklow was also the port through which Patrick made his escape after his six years captivity, though offers only circumstantial evidence to support this.
Much of the Declaration concerns charges made against St. 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 St. 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.
St. 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. Patrick says that he was also "many years later" a captive for 60 days, without giving details.
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 that comes from Patrick's life is the Letter to Coroticus or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, written after a first remonstrance was received with ridicule and insult. In this, St. Patrick writes an open letter announcing that he has excommunicated Coroticus because he had taken some of St. Patrick's converts into slavery while raiding in Ireland. The letter describes the followers of Coroticus as "fellow citizens of the devils" and "associates of the Scots [of Dalriada and later Argyll] and Apostate Picts". Based largely on an eighth-century gloss, Coroticus is taken to be King Ceretic of Alt Clut. Thompson however proposed that based on the evidence it is more likely that Coroticus was a British Roman living in Ireland. It has been suggested that it was the sending of this letter which provoked the trial which Patrick mentions in the Confession.
Nav pesaistītu vietu