St. Patrick’s Life

The story of St. Patrick is much more meaningful than the quirky myths we often hear about him.  And, there’s much more behind St. Patrick’s Day than green beer and parades.  Here’s his story.

St. Patrick was born towards the very end of the fourth century, in Britain, of parents who were wealthy property owners and probably aristocrats.  He was most likely born right around 390 AD, possibly in 387.  He was born in a town called Bannaventa Berniae, near the sea.  His father was a deacon and his grandfather had been a pastor, however, his home was not a place of great piety or religious feeling.  A few years before his birth, there had been some raids on Britain from Irish pirates; however, it had never to this point effected his family.

Patrick’s childhood days were spent between his family’s home and their vacation villa, which they spent quite a bit of time at.  As a boy, he was spoiled, waited upon by servants, and he had a knack for finding trouble.  He was not a proficient learner, and his writings later in his life show this.

Patrick rebelled from the faith of his family.  He even states that he was an atheist during his  childhood and early teen years.  When he was fifteen, he committed some sin so horrible that it haunted him the rest of his life. No scholar or researcher has been able to identify what this could have been.

When he was sixteen, his parents left the home for a short time to go on a trip to their vacation villa.  Patrick was left at the house to care for the home while they were gone.  While he was at the house, in his room, Irish pirates raided the home and kidnapped Patrick.  All Patrick would have known of Ireland was the outlandish and horrific tales told about the country.  His kidnappers chained him, put him on their ship, and they took him to Ireland as a captive.  His parents would realize that he was kidnapped, but there was literally nothing they could do about it.  He was brought to the far side of Ireland to a place on the edge of the Atlantic and was forced to be a sheep tending slave.  In this time, separated from his family, the church, and even Christianity- Ireland was completely pagan- he became an incredibly devout convert to faith in Christ and a worshipper of God.  He prayed through snow, frost, and rain.  Over time, he picked up information, such as the Celtic language, which would be vital for him years later.  While out working in the field, he had a dream in which a voice told him he would return home.  He had another dream in which a voice said, “behold, your ship is ready.”

So, after about six years of captivity, he managed to escape; he made his way eastwardly about 185 miles by foot across Ireland to the other coast, and was able to get on a ship back to Britian.  He states that getting on board the ship was the most dangerous part.  His off-kilter accent would have immediately given him away as a foreign slave.  At first the captain’s response was short and curt, “forget about it- there’s no way you’re going with us.”  But, as the legend goes, when he was sent away, the dogs on the ship started barking insanely, and when he was beckoned back for more questions, the dogs didn’t make a sound.  So, they allowed him on board.

Upon returning home, there was great celebration of banquets and feasts and parties for a time, but his years in Ireland had changed Patrick.  He was restless.  None of the opportunities back at home seemed to fit him.  His experience in Ireland had sharpened him and set him towards a great purpose.  In his old bedroom, he again had a dream like the one he had in Ireland, calling him back to Ireland.   He felt the call to become ordained as a deacon and then a pastor, and he shockingly decided to go back to Ireland.  No one in his family understood why he would return to his place of captivity.  He remained there for the rest of his life, never returning to Britain.

Ireland was completely cloistered from other cultures.  No other culture saw it wise or worthwhile to invade or explore.  Ireland was very tribal, formed of a system that was mostly extended family.  Each tribe had its own king.  Society was stratified into classes- a stranger such as Patrick would be at grave disadvantage because the social system made no allowance for something as strange to them as a Christian clergyman.  But Patrick was effective because of his experience in Ireland as a slave.

He converted and baptized thousands.  He brought to full membership of the Church thousands of people, leaving many churches in his path.  He traveled widely in Ireland and claimed to have evangelized in parts where no one had brought the gospel before.

In his writings about his life, St. Patrick described his encounter with God like this: “I was a stone lying in deep mud when God chose to lift me out.”

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ