Sunday, March 18, 2007

Well, Molly has survived yet another round of the most important day of the year, and she's only slightly the worse for wear. Anyways, a few factoids on St. Patrick and his day.
The general legend of St. Patrick (Latin: Patricius, Irish Naomh Padraig) derives from two of his letters in Latin that are generally accepted as authentic ie the Declaration (Latin Confessio) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Latin Epistola). There are also other works such as those of Tirechan and Muirchu moccu Machtheni, written about a century and a half after the death of Patrick, the Irish Annals which contain material from the Chronicle of Ireland and the probably forged First Synod of St. Patrick. All of these are less reliable than the two letters aformentioned and often conflate incidents from the life of Patrick and of Palladius who was the first missionary sent to Ireland from the monastery in Gaul, where Patrick was later sent from.
According to Patrick's own statements he was born Maewyn in the village of Banna Venta Berniae. Various locations from Wales to northern England to southern Scotland have been proposed for this town. His father was Calpornius a deacon, and his grandfather was Potitus, a priest. The year of his birth is uncertain but is likely around 385 CE.
According to the Confessio Patrick was about sixteen when he was captured by raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland. There he worked for 6 years as a herdsman, until, as he says, he heard a voice saying that he soon would be free and that his ship was ready. He boarded a ship on the coast and sailed back to his father in Roman Britain. After six years at home he had a vision in which "the voice of the Irish" begged him to return as a missionary. He studied for the priesthood at a monastery in Gaul under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for 12 years. He hoped to return to Ireland, but the first missionary chosen was St. Palladius. Two years later Palladius was transferred to Scotland, and Patrick was anointed as the new bishop of Ireland. He went there and ministered for 30 years, dying most likely on March 17th, 461. The main line of evidence for this is the Annals of Ulster, which mistakenly give the term of his mission in Ireland as 60 years and claim that he was 120 years old at his death in the year 493, rather than 461. The confusion results from the conflation of the lives of Palladius and Patrick.
Patrick's traditional resting place is with the two other patron saints of Ireland, St. Bridgid of Kildare and St Columba under Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down. Patrick was definitely not the first missionary to Ireland. In addition to St Palladius others such as Sts Auxilius, Secundus and Iserninus possibly predated Patrick. Patrick's prominance resulted from skillful propaganda on the part of the monastery in Armagh which claimed his relics. Most of Patrick's work was done in Ulster and Connaught while the others had mainly worked in the south of the country. While claiming many converts, Patrick's mission in Ireland was not without controversy. The Confessio mentioned above was actually a defense in his trial for simony. Patrick has never actually been canonized by a Pope. During the first millenium of the Church most canonization was done on a diocesan or regional level. The inclusion of St. Patrick in the Universal Calender with a feast day was due to the efforts of the 17th century Franciscan Luke Wadding, a prominant member of the commision for the reform of the Breviary. Wadding was also an arch-conspirator who arranged funds and arms for the Irish fighting the forces of Cromwell.
The generally accepted outline of Patrick's career in Ireland goes as follows. His original landing point in the summer of 433 is disputed, but the the mouth of the Vantry River is the most probable site. He did not receive a pleasant welcome from the local Druids. After a detour to pay off his former owner (a probably wise precaution rather than an act of Christian charity) he proceeded north to the islands off the Skerries coast. Tradition says that an imprint on a rock off the entrance to the harbour is the footprint of Patrick. He then visited the mouth of the River Boyne where he reportedly performed his first miracle.
From there, the legend continues, he continued inland towards Slemish. He was confronted by a chieftan named Dichu who intended to bar his path. When Dichu drew his sword to strike Patrick his arm reportedly became paralized and continued so until he declared for Patrick. In gratitude he gave the use of a large barn (sabhall in irish, pronounced "Saul") where Patrick founded his first Irish church and monastery. As Patrick continued on towards Slemish he observed the stronghold of his old master Milchu burning. The legend has it that Milchu himself gathered all his treasures into the hall and set it on fire, killing himself in the process, because "his pride could not endure the thought of being vanquished by his former slave".
On returning to Saul/Sabhall Patrick learned from Dichu that the Irish chieftans had been summoned by the Ard-Righ (High King) Leoghaire to Tara for a special feast. Patrick decided to journey to that feast to press his case for Christianity against Druidism. On his way to Tara Patrick rested at the house of a chieftan named Secsnen and converted his whole family. Secsnan's son Benin/Benignus became one of Patrick's closest companions in his work.
On March 26th, Easter Sunday, in 433 Patrick arrived at Tara. Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, across the valley from Tara on the night before. In defiance of the royal edict that forbade any fires being lit until a signal fire was lit at the royal stronghold Patrick kindled a blaze. The efforts of Leoghaire's retainers and the druids reportedly failed to extinguish the fire that Patrick had set, and many legends have grown up about the escape of Patrick and his retainers from the attacks of the Druids that night.
The next day Patrick's party, led by Benignus carrying a copy of the gospels, entered Tara and the legend says that Patrick and the Druids engaged in a contest of magics. When the Druids created a cloud of darkness that engulfed Tara and the surrounding plain Patrick challenged them to remove it, and when they failed it reportedly dissipated at his prayer. When the arch-Druid Lochru levitated Patrick prayed once more and Lochru fell to his death on a rock. According to the story Patrick twice pleaded for Christianity before Leoghaire, and on the second occasion patrick supposedly used the shamrock, plucked from the ground to explain the doctrine of the Trinity.
The whole matter of the shamrock, by the way, is probably nothing more than another example of Christian borrowings from previous pagan religions. The traditional three leaved white clover held to be the shamrock doesn't grow as early in the year as the reported incident, but the sour trefoil, known as the Wood Sorrel, does. This plant reputedly had herbal properties as an anodyne. It was reportedly an object of worship amongst the legendary ancient race of the Tuath-de-Danaans, and it was the symbol of the Vernal Equinox amongst the Druids. The shamrock also appears in numerous other places as a religious symbol such as the three-leaved wand of Hermes, the three-leaved sceptre of Triphyllian Jove and on the head of the Egyptian goddess Isis and the go Osirus. It was present on ancient Persian and Irish crowns.
After these pleas the High King gave Patrick permission to preach throughout all of Ireland. Patrick remained at Tara and Slane for the rest of Easter week. The next week he reportedly travelled to Tailten (now Telltown) where the national games were being celebrated in connection with the royal feast. There he celebrated the first public baptism in Ireland, that of Conall, the brother of the Ard-Righ. Conall reportedly made a gift to Patrick of the site of a church which is known today as Donagh-Patrick. Many of the kings of Ireland until the 11th century were decended from Conall as was St. Columba.
Leaving some of his companions in Meath, Patrick then reportedly proceeded to County Connaught. The "children of Erin" who had called to him in his vision came from Focluth in Connaught, and so he travelled with the chieftans of that district who were returning from the feast. Despite this escort he had to pay the equivalent price of 15 slaves for his safe passage through the intervening terrirories. Along the way he reportedly caused the pillar of Crom-Cruach and its twelve surrouding pillars to crumble to dust by striking it with his bishop's crozier. His first converts in Connaught were the king of Killara, along with his six sons and 12,000 subjects of the king.
Patrick spent 7 years visiting every district of Connaught. While there he reportedly converted two daughters of the king of Connaught, Ethne the fair and Fedelm the ruddy. When they had converted they desired so much to behold the face of God that they died after receiving Communion. if this wasn't legend it probably would have been the end of Patrick's mission in Connaught.
In 440 CE Patrick turned his attentions to Ulster, and by 444 CE he was granted a tract of land in Armagh for the construction of a cathedral. The legend has it that his companions wanted to kill a doe and her fawn for food, but Patrick wouldn't allow it. He took the fawn upon his shoulders and carried it to a neioghbouring hill where he set it down and declared that that spot would be the location of the cathedral.
From Ulster patrick returned to Meath and then travelled on to Leinster. Two of the missionaries who possibly proceded Patrick to Ireland, Sts Auxilius and Iserninus, have been conflated into the story as being companions of Patrick who were assigned the valley of the Liffey to minister to. Patrick paid special attention to the conversion of the local headsmen, but he wasn't always successful. On the border of Kildare and Queens his charioter Odham was killed by a spear thrust meant for Patrick.
From Leinster Patrick reportedly proceeded on to Munster where he stayed for 7 years, once more concentrating on the conversion of the ruling class. It was here that, while baptising Aengus, the son of the king of Munster that he supposedly accidently pierced the prince's foot with the tip of his crozier. The prince remained unmoved and when Patrick questioned him afterwards he said that he thought it was part of the ceremony. This is the legendary origin of the coat of arms of Munster with its cross with a pointed tip. His farewell address to the people of Munster was said to have been given from the hills of Tipperary.
The legends say that Patrick continued his ministrations and anointed no less than 350 bishops. Many shrines in Eire lay claim to his legend. One of them is the island of Lough Derg, known as St. Patrick's Purgatory. Another is the mountain in Connaught known as Crough Patrick, Patrick's Mountain. It was there that patrick was said to have spent the classical forty days and forty nights in spiritual combat with the ancient gods and demons of Ireland. He finally overcame them by the ringing of his bell which scattered them so that they threw themselves into the ocean. Patrick then remained upon the mountain until he had wrung special blessings for the people of Ireland . Among these were:
*many souls would be freed from purgatory through his intercession
*whoever in the spirit of penance would recite his hymn before death would achieve the heavenly award
*barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church (I guess this doesn't include the English ?)
*seven years before the Last Judgement the sea would rise up and engulf Ireland to spare the people the temptations and terrors of the Antichrist.
*St. Patrick himself would be appointed to judge the Irish at the final judgement.
And so the legend goes on. From Patrick's own Confessio he was imprisoned no less than 12 times during his stay in Ireland. At his death in 461 (or 493 according to other sources) St. Brigid brought the shroud in which he was to be buried. He was interred at the chieftan's Fort two miles from the sabhall where the cathedral of Down stands today.

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