The True Tale of Patrick
Much myth and legend surrounds the story of Patrick, born in Britain in the late 4th century. St. Patrick is often reduced to a mythical figure who performed magical feats (like driving all the snakes out of Ireland). The truth, as usual, is better than fiction!
All that can be known about Patrick comes from two documents written by him, one of which is “The Confession,” his short autobiographical account. In it, Patrick tells how he was kidnapped as a youth from his devout father’s comfortable home in Britain. Though Patrick’s father was a deacon in the church and had taught him God’s ways, Patrick had become a careless and rebellious young man.
“I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.”
Patrick was made a slave and a pig herder. There in the difficult and desolate country he found himself in, Patrick called on the Lord he had previously neglected.
“But after I reached Ireland I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”
Patrick eventually escaped, having been directed in a dream to a ship which took him home to Britain. His relieved family entreated him never to leave! But one night he had a vision:
“I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’; and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke. Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry.”