St. Patrick’s Story — Part I
St. Patrick’s Story — Part I
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher takes us back to ancient, Celtic Ireland to tell the story of St. Patrick, Part I.
As I researched my historical novel, The Bonfires of Beltane, I realized what a tale the life of St. Patrick presents and how few people know it. So let us now delve into the real story of St. Patrick.
Born to Wealth and Privilege
Patrick was born to wealthy parents in Roman Britain at the end of the fourth century AD. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman patrician with a large farmstead somewhere on the western coast. At a time when many Romans worshiped gods like Mars, Minerva, and Jupiter, Calpornius held a deaconship in the local Christian church. Baptized as an infant, Patrick rebelled against his parents’ faith. By his own admission, he was a spoiled child of privilege and in his youth, an atheist. He was schooled in the classics like Virgil, Homer, and Aristotle, but he struggled with Latin and had barely begun public speaking.
Then Came the Raiders
On one tragic night, this idyllic life ended. Slave traders came from across the sea, from Hibernia—what the Roman’s called Ireland. His parents and sister were visiting relatives in the north, leaving him alone at the villa with the slaves and hired freemen. The raiders appeared suddenly at night. They captured the younger servants and slaves. They killed the older men and women, those too feeble to bring a good price on Hibernia. They stole young Patrick, a youth of but fifteen, put an iron chain around his neck, and carried him across the sea. For centuries, the Romans had feared Hibernia as a country of wild men, barbarians, and “cannibals”. We can only imagine what went through the mind of this terrified, traumatized youth.
Out on the Moors, Cold, Starving, and Alone
In Hibernia, his captors sold him into slavery, and he ended up somewhere on the western coast, probably near a village called Foclut. This child of privilege and wealth suddenly found himself on the rainy moors, cold, starving, and alone, with the lowly job of tending sheep. He moved flocks between fields, fought off wolves. Sometimes he slept with the other slaves back in the farmstead, behind the safety of an earthen ditch and wooden stakes.
“Holy Boy” and God’s Voice
Six years passed, and something in him changed. He used to make fun of the priests, but now he remembered the biblical stories of his youth. He began to pray. He rose before sunrise, said a hundred prayers, and before going to bed, said another hundred. The other slaves called him, “holy boy”. And he began to fast. Gradually, his faith grew. And he served his master obediently.
One night, a voice called to him in a dream, “You have fasted well. Soon you will be going home.” But how could that be? Foclut was as far from the eastern and southern ports as one could get. And escaped slaves were quickly captured. So he ignored the voice. But the next night, the voice came again, “Behold, your ship is ready.” It gave him directions to a ship on the southern coast. He knew it was the voice of God.
He left his flock and set out on foot. Avoiding farmsteads, he traveled only at night, crossing the treacherous fens on log roads and swimming wide rivers. Without fire, his food dwindling, and fearing capture, he traversed one hundred eighty miles of open country, until he arrived at a port. In the village below, a ship floated at anchor. He screwed up his courage, passed by the roundhouses, and walked up the gangplank. Irish hounds filled the deck. But after one glance, the captain sent him away. Devastated, Patrick returned to the village.
Keywords: St. Patrick, ancient, Celtic Ireland, Hibernia, Calpornius, Foclut
Next week, we’ll conclude St. Patrick’s story with Part II.
(Note: This was a condensed version of a four-part series I posted a year ago. Parts one and two were recently published in the Spring 2017 Issue of Celtic Canada Magazine.)