Who Was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. However, for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery to many. The myths associated with St. Patrick’s Day blind us to the reality of God’s work in the man.
Taken Prisoner By Irish Raiders
Patrick’s story reads like an Indiana Jones-type adventure. We know that Patrick was born in Britain around 390 A.D. to wealthy parents. He’s believed to have died on March 17, around 461 A.D. His father was a Christian and served as a deacon.
At age 16, in 405 A.D., a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate, took Patrick prisoner. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity.
Many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim, while others surmise that he was held in County Mayo near Killala. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. It was at this time that he became a devout Christian, embracing the Christian faith of his upbringing, something that had mattered little to him beforehand.
In his own words, Patrick explained:
“And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son” (The Confession of St. Patrick).
This was also the time that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
Escape and Ministry
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick finally escaped from Ireland and made his way back to his home in Britain. But, in time, he sensed God’s call to return to Ireland in order to share the good news of Christ. Patrick then began his spiritual training, a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years.
After his ordination, he was sent to Ireland where he found unprecedented success in his evangelistic endeavors. His experience of Irish language and culture during his years as a slave enabled Patrick to communicate the Christian gospel with unusual effectiveness.
Although there may have been a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based religion. Patrick was able to show how Christ was the one true Son of God.
Tradition holds that Patrick lived into his seventies and died on March 17 461 A.D. In approximately three decades of evangelistic work, he led thousands of Irish to Christ and was responsible for Ireland becoming one of the most Christian nations in Europe. For this reason he is called “the apostle of the Irish.”
The Rest of the Story
For Patrick’s Morning Prayer read The Lorica.
For Philip Freeman’s biography, read St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography.
For Patrick’s autobiography read The Confession of St. Patrick.
Join the Conversation
How does this brief history compared to what you typically think about St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day?