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St. Patrick’s Disastrous Baptism of King Aengus at the Rock of Cashel

St. Patrick’s Disastrous Baptism of King Aengus at the Rock of Cashel

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher brings to life the story of St. Patrick’s disastrous baptism of King Aengus at the Rock of Cashel.

Many are the legends surrounding the life of St. Patrick. Are they all true? Most probably not. Some, like his supposed banishment of snakes from the island, are clearly fiction. Ireland never had any snakes. But others, like the story I am about to tell, could well have come to pass in one form or another. It occurred at the ancient Celtic center called the Rock of Cashel

Let us now go back to AD 450 and look in on a baptismal ceremony told through the eyes of a certain Finnean mac Eoran, cleric in training to the great evangelist Patrick from Roman Britain…

Patrick at the Rock of Cashel

How grand and jubilant did the day begin! What honor and glory this ceremony would bring to our Lord! And how little did I know what a surprise events would bring!

Rock of Cashel Today

For two months, I had been with Patrick at Cashel in southern Munster. King Aengus himself had requested my master come and preach to him. Aengus had heard of Patrick’s miracles of healing and how he’d smitten the idol of Crom Cruach in the north, breaking it to pieces with his crozier. So he wanted to hear about Jesu and the God of Light from the lips of the great man, himself.

Patrick’s teaching to the king was plain and straight-forward. The king pondered Patrick’s story of the Son of God, and, after some questions and discussion, agreed to the ceremony.

Thus did we stand in the courtyard of the king’s rath under cloudy skies, surrounded by a colorful retinue. From miles around came the Rí Tuatha, these kings of clans with their sons and subordinates. Everyone wore their best. Striped leggings of finest wool. Bright plaid tunics. Artfully crafted brass brooches. And more silver and gold torcs hanging from necks than I’d ever seen.

Before the ceremony, the king himself gave a short speech, enjoining the company to follow him. And as I glanced over the assembled, I saw many eager nodding heads. I had no idea of the disaster that would soon change their minds.

A Royal Baptism

Then came the event itself. The king had insisted he be baptized inside his rath on Cashel Rock, not down in a forest stream where we usually performed such rites. “Let history know,” he’d said, “that it was in this place I sought my Savior.” To accommodate his wishes, we’d ordered a hole dug in the square, whose sides and bottom servants lined with flat rocks, then filled with water. It was a baptismal fount fit for a king.

Dressed in loose flowing tunics, Patrick and the king stood before the fount. Patrick bore his favorite crozier and gripped its hooked handle, embedded with jade and emeralds. Its pointed spike dug into the earth beside him.

“Do you believe in God the Father Almighty?” boomed Patrick’s voice of authority.

“I believe,” said the king.

“Christ Jesu was born of a virgin called Mary. He was murdered by Pontius Pilate, the ruler of distant Palestine. He died, was buried, and on the third day rose again, alive from the dead. Then he ascended into heaven where even now he sits at the right hand of God the Father. Do you believe this, Aengus, King of Cashel, Ruler of Munster?”

“I believe.”

“And do you believe Christ Jesu is the Son of God?”

“I believe,” responded the king.

The Clonmacnoise Crozier

Then Disaster Struck

And so it went. It was proceeding well—until disaster struck. Patrick had reached the end, and as he prayed, he closed his eyes. Then he did something that even today, as I write these words, I shake my head with disbelief and horror, while at the same time, I struggle to suppress my laughter. What did Patrick do? In the middle of his prayer, he lifted his crozier high and brought it down. Hard. Sending the spike through the center of King Aengus’s foot.

The king stifled a cry of pain. Patrick kept on praying. I heard the crunch, opened my eyes, and looked with drooping jaw at the king’s foot as it bled profusely. But Aengus, stoic that he was, kept silent.

Patrick finished his prayer, passed the crozier to me, and stepped into the water up to his chest. Only then did he notice the king’s wound. What did Patrick do next? For some moments, he stared at the damage. Then, as if nothing had happened, he lifted his eyes to Aengus and beckoned him enter the water. The king doffed his tunic. Naked, Aengus limped into the water where Patrick baptized him.

To this day, Patrick never said a word about the event. The king thought it was all part of the ceremony—this stabbing of the foot—and merely went along with the procedure. Unfortunately, we received no further requests for baptisms that day. All those previously eager souls were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until weeks later that I and my fellow clerics, after much quiet convincing, brought half the king’s court down to a forest stream, where Patrick dunked them—with their feet intact.

And that ends my tale of the baptism of King Aengus at the Rock of Cashel.

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland in the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, click on the link.

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In the Wake of St. Patrick’s Day — an Elegy to St. Patrick

In the Wake of St.Patrick’s Day — an Elegy to St. Patrick

In this post, in the wake of St. Patrick’s Day, Christian author Mark Fisher presents a prose poem to honor St. Patrick. ’Tis a sort of elegy, if you will. And no, your author has not gone glipe in the head. His fling into “poetry” is temporary and, with proper rest, will surely soon abate. Meanwhile…

Elegy to St. Patrick

To you, O Patrick, we give honor, pay homage, and bow low.

Forever, the years remove us. Like flocks flown south before the frost. Your legacy lives ever on.
Through the church.
Across Ireland.
And in civilization itself.

’Tis not green beer, nor shamrocks, nor men in funny hats. ’Tis deeper still,  this bequest you’ve left. This world you’ve changed.
This knowledge against the chaos.
This truth against the lies.
This light against the darkness.

From your villa they stole you. Across the wild, Irish sea. A frightened youth in chains.
To slavery and toil.
For six long, famished years.
Alone on Irish moors.

Once, you rejected God. Once, you despised the priests. But then you remembered.
And you prayed.
You fasted.
And you prayed.

“Holy boy!” did they cry. And they named your soul, your heart. These fellow slaves, imprisoned.
And God heard.
Then He answered.
And you listened.

“Behold your ship,” God whispered. But you questioned and waited. For who are we to hear God speak?
Whispered answer?
Divine direction?
In a dream?

But the dream came again. Behold a southern port! You abandoned your flock.
In the dark.
Over the bogs.
In fearful flight.

The ship waited at dock. But the captain said nay. To this ragged, bolted slave.
To God did you pray.
And before you left,
The captain said, “Aye.”

To wend your way again home. To family and villa. Unseen for heart-wrenching years.
A tearful reunion.
A ghost in the flesh.
A family reunited.

But something has changed. You are not who you were. And then came more dreams.
Divinely delivered.
Pulling at your heart.
Radiant and clear.

“Holy boy!” they sang. “Walk now among us!” The Voice of the Irish.
Souls of Irish damned.
Voices of pagans.
Desperate and pleading.

A deacon you became. Then  appointed a priest. Working ever toward bishop.
Granting sacraments.
Managing the church.
Preaching to the poor.

O miserable fortune! The Pope sent Palladius. So patiently you’d waited!
But foreigner he was.
And him, they rejected.
His mission a failure.

A bishop you became. On Irish shores did you land. Full of hope, joy, and peace.
Bearing gifts for kings.
Bringing courage and zeal.
With a heart for the lost.

How the druids did oppose you! Such a threat to their ancient ways! How they fought your new religion!
Using guile and tricks.
Plotting ways to poison.
Casting dark pagan spells.

How the nobles did hear you! Your good message of Jesu. Only a few did embrace.
Your message of light.
These Irish princes.
These nobles and kings.

And the commoners and freed-men. How they loved you and followed you! And your good message of Christus.
Such seeds of hope!
What words of mercy!
Such hope for eternity!

The hordes took the continent. But your cloisters harbored peace. Sought knowledge and scholarship.
Monks copied and scribbled.
Illustrated and sketched.
Protected and preserved.

O Patrick, you changed us! You showed us the way. For to Ireland, you went.
Bringing hope for the hopeless.
Mercy for the downtrodden.
Light against the darkness.

O Patrick, your bequest lives on in our day. Bent history to God’s end. Brought Christ to needy hearts.
Sent knowledge against the chaos.
Truth against the lies.
Light against the darkness.

To you, O Patrick, we give honor, pay homage, and bow low.

(With apologies to all poets everywhere.)

Keywords: St. Patrick, St. Patrick’s Day, Elegy

Mark is the author of  The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in AD 432 in the time of St. Patrick. In which, he also wishes to add, you will find no poetry. Click on the link to learn more about his book.

Next week we’ll resume looking at centers of ancient Celtic culture.

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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.