The Real Story of St. Patrick, Part II
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher continues the real story of St. Patrick, Part II.
The Amazing Story of St. Patrick
As we approach St. Patrick’s day, we’ve been examining what really happened in the life of St. Patrick. As one of the main characters in my upcoming novel, The Bonfires of Beltane, I have a special interest in this amazing, early medieval icon. This is the second of a four-part series of posts. (Click here for Part I or Part III or use the navigation buttons on the left and right.)
Alone With the Sheep
When we left Patrick last week, Irish raiders stole him from his home and sold him into slavery in Hibernia, the Roman name for ancient Ireland. Slavery was much a part of Celtic and British culture then. Possibly in Foclut, somewhere on the western sea, Patrick spent the next six years tending sheep in a remote pasture. Ireland’s ancient economy was based on cattle, so tending sheep was considered even lower than herding cows or pigs or serving at the farm. Suddenly, the child of privilege found himself out on the cold, rainy moors, leading sheep from one field to the next, or taking them back to the farm. Sometimes he slept in a stone hut in a remote field, keeping a lookout for wolves who would prey on young lambs. Most often he’d sleep with the other slaves inside the farmstead, a cluster of buildings surrounded by an earthen ring, topped by wooden stakes. He complained of having little to eat and was often starving.
And Then He Began To Pray
But as the years passed, something within him began to change. The young man who’d once made fun of the priests remembered the biblical stories of his youth. And then he began to pray. He would rise before sunrise to say a hundred prayers and say another hundred before going to bed. The Irish slaves began calling him “holy boy”. He also began to fast. Gradually, his faith grew. His attitude changed and he served his master obediently. Then one night, a voice called to him in a dream, saying, “You have fasted well—soon you will be going home.”
But how was going home to Britain even possible? Foclut was in the far northwest, as far from the eastern and southern ports as one could get. Anyone seeing an escaped slave would quickly capture him. Yes, escape seemed impossible. Yet the next night, the voice came again, saying, “Behold, your ship is ready.” The voice even gave him directions to find a ship on the southern coast. He realized this had to be the voice of God. So he saved up some food, and one night, he left his sheep and set out for the south.
Crossing Ireland Alone
Now he was an élúdach, a fugitive on a par with murderers and thieves. He traveled only at night, swimming across rivers naked, holding his clothes above him. He crossed bogs on the wooden roads that traversed many of the worst fens. Unable to make a fire for fear of discovery, his food dwindling, and fearing capture, he traveled south for about a month, covering possibly 185 miles. Then he arrived at a port.
A Ship Sets Sail
In the village below, a ship lay at anchor. But he feared the moment the villagers saw him, they would capture him. Their reward would be great. But he screwed up his courage and passed by the roundhouses of the small village. He crossed the gangway onto the ship’s deck and approached the captain, who was ready to set sail with a cargo of Irish hounds. But after one look at the escaped slave and his ragged, dirty tunic, the captain probably saw trouble and sent him away. Devastated, Patrick trudged back toward the dock, praying all the way. Then suddenly, sailors approached from behind. He turned around. They asked him to return. Back at the ship, the captain offered him a position among the crew.
As the ship sailed away from Hibernia, this land where he’d spent so long in slavery, he gave thanks to God. Patrick had escaped. But then his journey home took an unexpected turn. We’ll continue with Part III next week.
(Note that this history was gleaned from a variety of sources: Patrick’s own Confessions, Philip Freeman’s St. Patrick of Ireland, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, and T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin’s The Course of Irish History.)