Every March, people celebrate St. Patricks Day. What do you know about the life of this Romano-British missionary? What is the history of this legendary figure? In this article, we look at Saint Patrick and his life in Ireland.
Source of Information
To begin with, history is not able to pinpoint the exact dates that he was alive. However, historians generally agree that he was active as a missionary during the 5th century. When he was born is not as certain. Patrick later wrote the Confessio of Patrick about his life, which is the main source for information about his early years. However, this source does not give any specific dates. There are two indications for time within his writing, one of which is the implication that the Franks are still pagans. Their conversion to Christianity didn’t occur until around 496. The other involves the biblical language references as they indicate a time of transition from one language to another.
The time frame for Saint Patrick is important because there was a bishop in 431 with the name of Palladius. Some academics suggest that the life of Palladius may have been overlapped with Saint Patrick. This argument is mostly focused on later traditions surrounding his life rather than the points of his life that he tells.
Saint Patrick was originally from Roman Britain and his father was a decurion or Senator/tax collector. Thus, they would have been able to afford a villa. In his Confessio, Patrick says that Irish pirates captured him at the age of 16 from his parents’ villa. He states that he was enslaved for six years. Patrick mentions that he later escaped back to Britain, eventually returning to his family in his early twenties.
Some reinterpretations suggest that this section of his history was more of a biblical allusion rather than a physical reality. In fact, some suggest that instead, Patrick took part in the ‘flight of the curiales’. This was a popular activity among men of his rank and family background as they were required to serve on a town council or curia. They fled to other countries to avoid their responsibilities under Roman law.
Later In Life
Later on, Patrick became a missionary in Ireland. According to tradition, locals did not often welcome Saint Patrick, especially at Wicklow, Ireland. This was for a couple of different reasons. He was a foreigner, but also, he refused gifts from kings and clan leaders. While this doesn’t seem unusual today, at the time, this meant he wasn’t following local propriety. Thus, he was without traditional ties and, therefore, without protection. He mentions being robbed and beaten at one point.
Saint Patrick’s work wasn’t without its detractors on the Christian side either. Apparently, fellow Christians laid charges against him at a trial. For what exactly, he doesn’t say. However, he does make sure to explicitly mention not accepting gifts and instead paid for many gifts for kings and judges. Therefore, historians speculate that they charged him with financial impropriety and possibly having become a bishop for personal gain. They also propose that Saint Patrick wrote the Confessio as a response to his detractors.
While Saint Patrick’s Day has become a cultural holiday in Ireland and abroad, the history and life of the man himself is often lesser known. In this post, we looked at Saint Patrick’s life in Ireland as well as what historians have speculated based on the evidence.