Saint Patrick FAQ

Writings of Saint Patrick

Two genuine writings of Saint Patrick are in existence today. These writings have become public only during the 19th century.

One is “The Confession”, an autobiography of Saint Patrick near the end of his life. Another is “A letter to Coroticus”, containing a fierce complaint against Coroticus who had raided a number of Patrick’s converts.

Other Early Writings

A third writing, not from Patrick’s hand, but closely connected with him, is “The Hymn,” written in ancient Irish, and also known as “The Breastplate”. Another old hymn on St Patrick is written by a certain Secundinus. All we know historically and accurately must come from these sources!

There are three sayings attributed to Saint Patrick, but scholars doubt whether any or all are really from Patrick. An other interesting source about Saint Patrick comes to us from the 17th century: the Annals of the Four Masters, an important history book compiled from may sources.

From Patrick’s own words he comes across as a man of simple steady faith, humble, hard-working and courageous. He possessed a deep love of God and never lost his sense of amazement at his calling to convert Ireland.

It is only later, starting in the seventh century, that many of the legends of St. Patrick begin to flower. Politics, of course, enters the story of Patrick. When the O’Neills, who controlled Tara in the seventh century, wanted the king of Tara to be the High King, St. Patrick’s legendary but not historical connection to Tara was promoted. When Malachi of Armagh wanted to increase the powers of bishops, he starts to conform the Irish Church to the practices of Rome and promotes St Patrick (who is reputedly buried near Armagh), claiming his authority from “additional” traditions around St. Patrick.

What About The Snakes?

It is a folk tale that Patrick drove the snakes off the “Emerald Isle.” The absence of snakes in Ireland is already mentioned in the third century by the Roman Solinius. Snakes being commonly associated with Satan, sin and evil since the Garden of Eden, this tale may have arisen as a metaphor of his single-handed effort to drive the idol-worshiping Druid cult out of Ireland.

St. Patrick’s popularity stimulated the creativity of the seanachies: St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Trinity (this is a seventh century innovation); St. Patrick has Jesus’ assurance that Jesus will judge the Irish and that Patrick will sit with Him (also seventh century).

The historical and legendary St. Patrick have had a real impact. Pilgrims still walk up to the top of Croagh Patrick, some barefoot, saying the Stations of the Cross; the devout go on a three-day silent retreat to Station Island in Loch Derg at St. Patrick’s Purgatory; and on March 17 in honour of St. Patrick, everyone is Irish. All these traditions are late(r) inventions, and have nothing to do with the historical Patrick

When was Patrick born?

Patrick was born about the end of the 4th century. We cannot determine the date of his birth or death any more certain.

However, tradition has him born in the year 385.

The Annals of the Four Master have him die (on March 17th) 493, being 122 years old. They thought that Patrick must have been born in the year 371.

What was the extend of his ministry?

His mission was during the years 432-461. During his 29 years as a missionary, it is said that Patrick baptized over 120,000 Irishmen, and established at least 300 churches (the Four Annals say 600 Churches) in which the Saviour God was owned, the Word of God was preached and the triune God was worshiped.

Was Patrick Irish?

It is a myth that Patrick was Irish. He was a Briton, born in Bannavem Taburniæ according to his Confession, (although it could have been spelled as Bannaventa Berniae) but we do not know where that is, except that it must have been on the west coast of Britain.

At 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave to a Druid chieftain in Ireland. While herding pigs, he had much time to ponder the many Bible verses his Christian father taught him. They led him to trust Christ as his Saviour. In his Confessions he wrote, “At 16 … in a strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes and I was converted.”

During his six years of slavery, he was known as “Holy Boy” because he was always praying and talking about his Saviour. Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” He alluded to this verse in his Confessions when he wrote, “Whatever happens to me, whether pleasant or distasteful, I accept, giving thanks to God who never disappoints.”

Is Patrick A Saint?

That Patrick is a saint is no myth, although he has never been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. When the Roman Catholic Church established the first list of Saints (the first official saint was Ulrich canonized in 993), Patrick was already on it.

But is that how one becomes a saint? According to the Bible, sainthood is not attained by what others think of us, but by who we own as our Saviour. At least six New Testament epistles are addressed directly “to the saints.” The authors were not writing to dead people, but to all those who believe this: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

Patrick did not become a saint because of his good deeds in Ireland, but because of what he came to believe while still a slave boy in that country. After his salvation, he was called by God to return to Ireland, “to dwell in the midst of barbarians … for the love of God.” He went, not to obtain salvation, but because he was already saved and wanted to share his faith out of love for his Saviour.

Croagh Patrick

Croagh Patrick means Patrick’s Mountain, the holiest mountain in Ireland, it’s on coast of Mayo in the west. Sometime around 800 AD the name of Patrick was imposed on Croagh Patrick – a Christianization of an old pagan festival. The pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick takes place on the last Sunday (Reek Sunday) in July. In pre-Christian times, that was when there was a great harvest festival in honour of the god Lug.