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The life of Saint Patrick [part two]

Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century, and continues to be recognized today. It commemorates the death of Saint Patrick, the introduction of Christianity into Irish culture, as well as Irish nationalism.

To celebrate, we’ve pulled a two-part excerpt from Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes in which Philip Freeman tells the story of Saint Patrick.

When we last left Patrick, Lucet Máel had challenged him to a duel of miracles. By blessing the plain and causing the snow to melt, Patrick invoked the anger of Lucet Máel called down darkness onto the land. When urged by the crowd, the druid was unable to bring back the light. But Patrick prayed to God, bringing back the sun.

Part two continues below.

After these contests the king told both Patrick and the druids to throw their books into the water to test whether they would be damaged. Patrick agreed to do this, but the chief of the druids said he did not want to be judged by water, for water was sacred to the holy man—for he had heard that Patrick baptized in water.

“Then throw your books into fire,” the kings said.

Patrick agreed, but again the druid said he would not, for fire was also sacred to the Christian.

“This is not true,” said Patrick to the druid. “I challenge you to go into an enclosed house along with one of my young followers. You wear my robe while my boy wears yours. Then set the house on fire and be judged by the Most High.”

The druid agreed to this, so that a house was filled wet and dry wood. Holy Patrick sent his young disciple Benignus into the part of the house with dry wood wearing the robe of the druid. The druid entered the half with wet wood wearing Patrick’s robe. The building was then sealed and set on fire while all the people watched.

Stained glass window at Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Columbus, Ohio depicting St. Patrick baptizing the king. “Saint Patrick Catholic Church” by Nheyob. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Through the prayers of Patrick, the flames completely consumed the druid and the house, but left Benignus untouched. The robe of Patrick however was not harmed, while the garment of the druid burned away.

The king was very angry, but Patrick spoke to him:

“Unless you believe now, you will die. For the fury of the Lord has fallen upon your head.”

King Lóegaire then called together his counselors to ask what he should do.

“It is better to believe than die,” they told him.

So the king came reluctantly to Patrick to be baptized.

“You come to me now,” said Patrick to Lóegaire,” but it would have been better for you if you had believed me right away. You shall remain as king, but because of your disbelief your descendants will not rule after you.”

Patrick then went forth and preached the gospel across Ireland, baptizing all who believed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and confirming the power of the Lord with miracles and wonders.

Her parents did not know what to do with her, so when they heard of Patrick and his wondrous work in Ireland, they journeyed there with her to speak with him.

“Do you believe in God?” Patrick asked Monesan.

“I do with all my heart,” she said.

Then Patrick baptized her with water and the Holy Spirit.

Immediately she fell down dead.

She was buried there in Ireland where she died. 20 years later her remains were carried with honor to a nearby chapel, where her relics are adored to this day.

During these days there was a wicked British king named Corotic who was a great persecutor and murderer of Christians. Patrick wrote to him to urge him to follow the way of truth, but Corotic only laughed at him.

When this was told to Patrick, the holy man asked the Lord to expel the king from his presence then and forever more.

One day not long after this, Corotic heard the sound of music and a voice singing to him that it was time for him to leave his throne. Then all of his family and followers burst into the same song. Suddenly, in the midst of them all, Corotic was changed into a fox and ran out of his palace. After that he was never seen again.

In these days there lived in Ulster a wicked, murderous pagan named Macc Cuill moccu Graccae who was so savage he was called the Cyclops. One day he was sitting on a hill looking for travelers to rob and kill when he saw Patrick coming down the road. Macc Cuill recognized the holy man and decided to test him before slaying him. He had one of his men pretend to be gravely ill and brought the man before Patrick to be healed.

“If he had truly been sick,” Patrick said, “then you wouldn’t be surprised by his current condition.”

Macc Cuill pulled back the sheet covering the man and saw that he was dead. The outlaw was struck with sorrow and guilt over what he had done.

“Forgive me, Patrick” he said. “I confess my wickedness and submit myself to the judgment of your God.”

Patrick baptized him and told him that to be forgiven by the Lord he must go down to the sea and cast himself from shore in a small boat with no food, water, or oars. He must let God take him where he would, whether to death or life.

Reputed burial site of Saint Patrick in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. “Saint Patrick’s grave Downpatrick” by Man vyi. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“I will do as you have said,” replied Macc Cuill.

He went down to the sea and fettered his feet in chains and threw away the key. Then he set out to sea as he had been told. The north wind blew him for days until he came to an island. There he found two righteous priests who trained him in the way of the faith. He spent the rest of his life on that island and in time became a bishop famous for his holiness and wisdom.

One day Patrick was preaching by the sea on a Sunday when he was troubled by the noise of some pagans digging a ditch around a fort. He ordered them not to work on the Lord’s day, but they ignored him.

Mudebroth!” he shouted. “You will gain nothing from your labor.”

The next day a great storm arose and destroyed all the work the pagans had done, just as Patrick had said.

When the time came for Patrick to die, an angel came to him and told him that God would grant him four petitions that he had sought.

The first was that his authority would ever after be in the city of Armagh. The second was that whoever sang his hymn would have the penance for their sins decided by him. The third was that the descendants of Díchu, who had first welcomed him to Ireland, would be granted mercy and would not perish. And the final petition was that all of the Irish would be judged by him at the end of the world.

And so on 17 March, in the 120th year of his life, Patrick passed from this life into the hands of God.

Featured image credit: “Clover” by damesophie. CCO Public Domain via Pixabay.

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