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St. Patrick’s Story — Part II

St. Patrick’s Story — Part II

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes his two-part series on St. Patrick’s Story. After Patrick escaped from slavery, what happened after he returned home to his family? What was his call to return to the Irish with the gospel message? How did he change the face of Ireland?

Irish Sheep

Last week we saw how Patrick was born into a family of the wealthy Roman elite, but he was spoiled and pampered.  Though he was brought up hearing stories from the Bible, he viewed himself as an atheist. Then Irish slavers came from across the sea, stole him from his family’s farmstead when they were away, and bore him to the feared country of Hibernia, what the Romans called Ireland. There he toiled for six years as a slave, tending sheep out on the moors, cold, starving, and alone. But God sent him a series of dreams, showing him a way to escape. One night, he left his flock and crossed 185 miles of bogland in the dark, avoiding farms and villages until he ended up at a port on the southeastern coast to the ship God had told him about.



A Ship Bound for Gaul

When he approached the ship’s captain, at first the captain sent Patrick away. Devastated, he started to go back to the village. As an escapes slave, he was sure he would now be captured. How could God abandon him now? Was his long trek across Ireland for nothing? But the sailors called him back, the captain offered him a position on the crew, and the ship sailed. Missing their destination, they landed somewhere in present-day Germany and unloaded the hounds. Then, for twenty-eight days, they wandered until they ran out of food. The captain faced Patrick. “We’re starving,” he said. “If your God is so powerful, why don’t you ask him to bring us some food, or we’ll die.” So Patrick prayed. And shortly afterward, a herd of pigs crossed their path. For two days, the sailors feasted on pork.

Back in Britain, but Unsettled

It took Patrick years to find his way back to his father’s villa. No one had ever returned from Irish slavery, and his family welcomed this lean young man of twenty-one with surprise and delight. On the outside, he was physically hardened. But on the inside, he’d changed. His father wanted him to run the farmstead. But Patrick no longer fit in. He was restless, unsettled, and unhappy.

Then came the first dream. At the foot of his bed, a man named Victoricus dumped a pile of letters, broke the seal of one, and handed it to Patrick. “Holy boy,” sang the Irish voices from the letter, “Come back and walk among us!” When he woke, his heart broke for lost of Hibernia. Would they never know the Savior? A second dream followed the first, and he knew it was God who’d spoken. Resolve filled him. He must return. He must bring the gospel message to the Irish.

Return to Ireland

What followed were years of service, as Patrick studied to become a deacon in the local church then a priest. In Lérins, an island off the southern coast of Gaul, he pestered his bishop to send him to Ireland, but the bishop refused. Instead, he sent a man named Palladius. By all accounts, Palladius’ mission failed miserably. Only then was Patrick appointed bishop, necessary to ordain priests, and ordered to Ireland.

Gallarus Oratory, a 6th Century Church

When he landed in the northern inlet of Strangford Loch, Patrick was probably thirty years old. To the Irish, he was like one of their own. He understood them, and he made converts. He brought them a God who loved, so unlike the fearsome, angry spirits of the druids that required constant sacrifices. To a land mired in spiritual darkness, Patrick brought a teaching of light and hope. And on the northern half of the island, he left behind hundreds of small churches, thousands of new believers.

We can make the case that because of Patrick and Irish Christianity, during Europe’s later chaos and barbarian upheavals, the Irish monks preserved the great works of western civilization. There is much more to Patrick’s story than what we’ve shown. But perhaps we’ve given a hint of what happens when a man listens to the voice of God and does his bidding. Surely, Patrick changed not only Ireland, but the world.

Keywords: St. Patrick, Irish Christianity, Hibernia, druids

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. You can find his book on Amazon or at www.MarkFisherAuthor.com/Marks-Books.

Sources for this article: 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.