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From Muirchú's Life of St. Patrick

From MuirchÚ'sLife of St. Patrick

c. 680

Based on both legend and historical sources, such as St. Patrick's own Confessio, this version became the basis forsubsequent Lives of the saint. Here is the account of his early life and mission to convert the Irish. Patrick's birthplace has never been satisfactorily identified, though it is generally thought to have been in western Britain.

SEE ALSO Hagiography; Religion: The Coming of Christianity; Saint Patrick, Problem of

1. Patrick, who was also called Sochet, was of British nationality, born in Britain, the son of the deacon Calpurnius, whose father, as Patrick himself says, was the priest Potitus, who came from the town of Bannavem Taburniae, not far from our sea; we have discovered for certain and beyond any doubt that this township is Ventre; and the mother who bore him was named Concessa.

At the age of sixteen the boy, with others, was captured and brought to this island of barbarians and was kept as a slave in the household of a certain cruel pagan king. He spent six years in captivity, in accordance with the Jewish custom, in fear and trembling before God, as the psalmist says (Psalms 54, 6), and in many vigils and prayers. He used to pray a hundred times a day and a hundred times a night, gladly giving to God what is due to God and to Caesar what is due to Caesar and beginning to fear God and to love the Lord Almighty; for up to that time he had no knowledge of the true God, but at this point the Spirit became fervent within him.

After many hardships there, after enduring hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, after pasturing flocks, after visits from Victoricus, an angel sent to him by God, after great miracles known to almost everyone, after divine prophecies (of which I shall give just one to two examples: "You do well to fast, since you will soon be going to your home country," and again: "See, your ship is ready," though it was not near at hand but was perhaps two hundred miles away, where he had never been to) after all these experiences, as we have said, which can hardly be counted by anyone, in the twenty-third year of his life he left the earthly, pagan king and his words, received the heavenly, eternal God and now sailed for Britain by God's command and accompanied by the Holy Spirit in the ship which lay ready for him; with him were barbarian strangers and pagans who worshipped many false gods. . . .

8. And so, when a suitable opportunity so directed, with God's help to accompany him he set out on the journey which he had already begun, to the work for which he had long been prepared the work, that is, of the Gospel. And Germanus sent an older man with him, namely the priest Segitius, so that Patrick would have a witness and companion, since he had not yet been consecrated to the rank of bishop by the holy lord Germanus. For they were well aware that Palladius, the archdeacon of Pope Celestine, the bishop of the city of Rome who then held the apostolic see as forty-fifth in line from St. Peter the apostle, that this Palladius had been consecrated and sent to convert this island, lying as it does in frozen wintriness. But God prevented him, because no one can receive anything from this earth unless it has been given him from heaven. For these wild, uncivilised people did not take kindly to his teaching, nor did he himself want to spend time in a land which was not his own; he returned to him who sent him. But on his return journey from here, after making the first sea crossing and proceeding by land, he died in the land of the British.

9. And so, when the word came of the death of St. Palladius in Britain, since Palladius' disciples, Augustine, Benedict and the others, returned to Ebmoria with the news of his death, Patrick and his companions turned aside to a wonderful man, a very important bishop called Amator, who lived nearby. And there St. Patrick, knowing what was to happen to him, received the rank of bishop from the holy bishop Amator, as also Auxilius and Iserninus and others received lesser orders on the same day as St. Patrick was consecrated. They received the blessings, everything was performed in the customary way, and the following verse of the psalmist was also sung, especially appropriate for Patrick: "You are a priest for ever, in the manner of Melchisedek" (Psalms 109:4). Then in the name of the holy Trinity the venerable traveller went on board the ship which had been prepared and reached Britain; and as he made his way on foot he avoided all detours, except for the ordinary business of travelling (for no one seeks the Lord by idleness), and then he hurried across our sea with all speed and a favourable wind.

10. Now in the days in which these events took place in the aforesaid area there was a certain king, the fierce heathen emperor of the barbarians, who reigned in Tara, which was the Irish capital. His name was Loegaire, the son of Niall and the ancestor of the royal house of almost the whole of this island. He had had wise men, wizards, soothsayers, enchanters and inventors of every black art who were able in their heathen, idolatrous way to know and foresee everything before it happened; two of them were favoured above the rest, their names being Lothroch, also called Lochru, and Lucetmael, also known as Ronal.

These two repeatedly foretold by their magical arts that there would come to be a certain foreign practice like a kingdom, with some strange and troublesome doctrine; a practice brought from afar across the seas, proclaimed by a few, adopted by many and respected by all; it would overthrow kingdoms, kill kings who resisted, win over great crowds, destroy all their gods, and after driving out all the resources of their art it would reign for ever and ever. They also identified and foretold the man who would bring and urge this practice in the following words, often repeated by them in a sort of verse form, especially in the two or three years preceding Patrick's arrival. This is how the verse ran; the sense is less than clear because of the different character of the language:

'Adize-head shall come, with his crook-headed staff and his house with a hole in its head. He shall chant blasphemy from his table, from the eastern part of his house, and all his household will answer him: "So be it, so be it!" (This can be expressed more clearly in our own language.) "So when all these things happen, our kingdom, which is heathen, shall not stand."

And this is just as it later turned out. For the worship of idols was wiped out on Patrick's arrival, and the Catholic faith in Christ filled every corner of our land. So much for this topic; let us return to our subject. . . .

22. And St. Patrick, according to the Lord Jesus' command going and teaching all nations and baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, set out from Tara and preached, with the Lord working with him and confirming his words with the following signs.

St. Patrick: His Writings and Muirchu's Life, edited and translated by A. B. E. Hood (1978), pp. 83, 85–86, 93.

© Text and translation: A. B. E. Hood, 1978.

Reproduced by permission.

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