Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Patrick

March 17; A.D. 475

Most of you have heard of St. Patrick. I dare say you know also that he is called the "Patron Saint" of Ireland—that St. Patrick's Day is a great feast day for all Irish people wherever they may be.

But there are many people who know just as much as this, and not a word more about St. Patrick, save perhaps the old legend which says that he sent away from his country for ever all the creatures we call reptiles, that is, those which crept along the ground like snakes and adder So they have learnt to think of this saint as a sort of wizard, or one who used magic arts, or even to believe that such a man never really lived at all.

But St. Patrick did live, and was indeed a great and good man. It is a grand thing that the land he lived and worked in so many hundred years ago should still so greatly honour him.

Patrick is now the most common name to be met with in Ireland or among Irish people; and this has come about simply because of the love and respect borne in Ireland to the good Priest of long-past days.

In those days Patricius, from which the name Patrick comes, meant a Roman of noble birth. All Britain was under Roman rule at the time of St. Patrick's birth; and Roman families had come and settled in the land, just as in later times the Normans came with William the Conqueror. We cannot be quite sure in what part of Britain St. Patrick was born. We know that his father held office under the state, and there is a good deal of reason to think that his birthplace was Dumbarton in Scotland, and that there he grew up till he was about sixteen years old.

As a boy he was like most other boys of his age, very fond of play, and loving above all things to have his own way. From some writings of his which have come down to us, it seems as if he were even rather a naughty boy—that he cared little to please his masters. But when he was sixteen a dreadful thing happened. A band of robbers or pirates, as they were called, fell upon the place where Patrick lived. They wounded his father, carried off his sister and sold her to be a slave, and took Patrick and a number of other boys and men, put them on board ship, and sailed with them across the sea to the coast on the other side, which was the county of Antrim in Ireland. Here Patrick was sold to be a slave to a rich man named Milchu, and set to tend cattle on the hills. During six long years he spent most of his time alone among the woods and fields. He thought over his past life, and felt that he had done much that was wrong—that he had cared little to do what was right, or to serve GOD or man through his early years. He believed GOD had let him be carried away from his home and sold as a slave because he had been so idle and careless, and that he might be led to a better life. He turned to GOD in earnest prayer. Out upon the hills in time of frost and snow, heat and cold—alone amid the thick woods and the green slopes beneath the clear bright sky, he gave up his whole soul to his FATHER in heaven. And by-and-by he felt that the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD came and dwelt in his heart, and made him burn with the wish to lead a good and noble life. Then one night he heard in a dream a voice saying to him, "Thy fasting is well; thou shalt soon return to thine own land."

His heart was full of hope and gladness, but he could only go on quietly with his work of tending the cattle, till after a little time he again had a dream. He thought he heard the same voice, and that it told him the ship was ready to take him away, but that it was two hundred miles off. At once he left the cattle, and fled towards the sea coast. He reached it, found indeed a ship, and got over to France.

How great must have been Patrick's joy to find himself a free man after all those years. And not only did he find himself free, but in the midst of his own friends. For his parents had settled in France, and they were indeed happy to see back once more their long-lost son. But the heart that had been so truly drawn to GOD could not now rest content with a life of ease.

Once more St. Patrick had a dream. He saw in the midst of the night a man who came from Ireland, whose name was Victor. He had many letters, one of which he gave to the saint. It began: "The voice of the Irish; "and as he read aloud he thought he heard the voice of those who were near the wood of TochIut, which is near the Western sea, crying out, "We entreat the holy youth to come and walk still among us."

So about the year A.D. 432 St. Patrick took a few men, and sailed across to Ireland. He Ianded first at the mouth of a river just where the town of Wicklow now stands. But he did not stay here: he wanted to go to the part where he had been kept so long captive, to teach the people there the good news of JESUS CHRIST.

He went on round the coast till he came to Strangford Lough. Here he and his men left their boats, and set out to explore the land. Before they had gone far they met a swineherd, who thought this band of strangers must surely be pirates; so he ran off fast to call his master, a great Irish chief named Dichu, the son of a king.

Dichu came out sword in hand. But he was so struck by the calm and holy face of St. Patrick that he laid down his sword, took him to his house, and showed him great kindness. By-and-by Dichu became a believer in JESUS CHRIST—the first person in Ireland whom St. Patrick led to the Saviour. He was very earnest, too, in his faith. He gave over to St. Patrick a piece of ground to build a church, which was called Sabhall Padbrig, meaning Patrick's barn. Very likely a barn had stood before where St. Patrick now built his church. Or perhaps it was called St. Patrick's barn because, as it was the first church he built in Ireland, it was very simple and plain, and, like all the early churches of those days, had a flat square roof and no tower. The word "Padbrig" became later "Saul," and there stands to this day a Christian Church on the spot; it is the oldest parish in all Ireland.

St. Patrick would not stay very long at Saul. He wished so much to get on to the place where he had passed those six years of his life as a slave. So he gave Dichu his boats to take care of, and went on to Dalaradia, in Antrim, now know as "The Route."

If you ever go to this part of Ireland you must note it well, and try to think how St. Patrick, though of noble birth, lived here a poor slave, and tried to do his duty as a faithful servant; how he strove to know GOD and to lead a pure life, and to fit himself by prayer among those woods and hills to serve GOD truly and nobly whenever he should be set free.

When Milchu, who had been Patrick's master, heard of his coming he was full of fear. He could not think that a man whom he had owned as a slave could have become powerful except by magic arts, and thought he in his turn would be made a slave by the man whom he had used hardly in past days. But he said to himself that this should never be. So he piled up in his house all his goods and his riches, and placed himself on the top of the great heap he had made. Then he set fire to the house, and thus was burnt to death, he and all he had.

How great must have been the horror of St. Patrick as he drew near to this burning mass!

He set out next day for a place called the Hill of Tara, where lived most of the great lords and chiefs of Ireland. It was a grand old place. Ruins of its fine halls are still to be seen, and also great mounds beneath which many of the Irish kings and chiefs of those days were buried.

Before St. Patrick had got quite as far as the Hill of Tara he made a halt. It was just Easter-tide, and he wanted to keep this great feast as fitly as he could. So he set up his tent on the Hill of Slane, a little way from the Hill of Tara, and on Easter Eve he made what in those old days was known as the "Easter fire." This was done by setting light to a number of tapers and candles, which made a great blaze that shone out through the dark night, till it was almost as bright as day.

But just at this very time the Irish king at Tara was keeping one of his pagan feasts. He had made it a law that no light or fire was to be seen anywhere over the whole land before the beacon-light shone out from his palace. By this law any one who made a light or fire before that of the king was seen must be put to death.

And now, behold, the king and all the princes and nobles at Tara saw the great blaze of St. Patrick's blessed Easter fire.

The king in a rage called his chief Druids to him, and asked them the meaning of the light he saw.

Then the Druids cried, "O king, live for ever! This fire which has been lighted before the royal fire will never be put out if it be not put out this night. It will conquer our fires, and he who has lit it will conquer us aIl."

The king in great anger took some of his chief men and went out at once to attack St. Patrick. As they drew near one of the king's wise men begged him not to go too close to the Christian fires lest they might have some strange power over him. So he sent for St. Patrick to come out to him, and gave command that none of his people should rise as he drew near.

When the saint saw the king and his horses and cars he began to sing in the words of the psalm, "Some put their trust in horses and some in chariots, but we trust in the Name of the LORD our GOD ."

No one rose as he approached except a lad named Erc, one of the king's pages. He became a Christian later, was ordained Priest, and was made in after years Bishop of Slane—of that very part where he had thus first seen St. Patrick, and where, in spite of the king's order, he had risen to greet him. A small chapel, called after his name, still stands on the spot on the banks of the river Boyne.

One of the Druids who was with the king began to blaspheme—that is, to use impious words, and take the Name of the LORD GOD in vain. In an instant he was struck down dead. Then the king ordered St. Patrick to be seized, but at that moment a strange darkness came over the land, and there was a great earthquake. The guards fled in fear, and the king and queen were left alone with the saint. The queen went up to him and begged him not to slay the king. The king himself also bent low, and said he was ready to worship St. Patrick's GOD . He did not really mean this, and from the moment he felt free from danger he again tried to kill St. Patrick. But this he could not do. Then, after some time, he asked to be baptized, and he gave St. Patrick royal leave to pass on through Ireland. The king was never really a Christian. Fear alone, and the wish of the great lords of his court had led him to accept Baptism. He died a pagan at heart. But after a time many of his relations learnt from St. Patrick to believe in the Saviour.

He went on next to Connaught, and through the whole country one may still see traces of the many churches he founded.

Let me tell you a beautiful story of two young girls whom he met and taught to know JESUS CHRIST.

In his travels he came once to a wide plain, where stood a palace and a sort of Druid college, in which young girls were brought up and taught. The king about whom you have just heard so much had sent his two daughters here. They were both very handsome; the one was called Ethne the Fair, the other Feidelen the Ruddy.

The two girls used to rise very early in the morning and go out to bathe in a well which was near the palace. One morning, what was their surprise to find close to this well a number of grave Priests sitting with books in their hands.

The maidens said to them, "Who are ye, and whence do ye come?"

St. Patrick said, "It were better for you to learn to know the true GOD than to ask about our race."

Then one of the maidens asked, "Who is GOD, and where is GOD ?"

So St. Patrick began to teach them, and they believed with all their hearts. But they wished to see the face of CHRIST. St. Patrick told them that it was only through death that they could come to see the face of the Saviour. Yet they desired much to see CHRIST. Then they received from St. Patrick the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and a very little while afterwards they died, both about the same time, in the freshness of their youth and of their faith.

On the spot where their bodies were laid, close to the well, St. Patrick built a church.

There is a well still at the very same place. Perhaps one day you will visit it, and then you will think of the two maidens who used to rise early to go there to bathe, and thus met the Christian Priests and were led to CHRIST.

St. Patrick preached in Ulster next, and spent much time among his old friends in the county of Antrim, teaching and preaching. He built a great church at Armagh, on a long ridge of ground which a chief named Daire gave to him, and he placed a Bishop there. This was in the year 445 A.D. It was not till one hundred and fifty years later that there was a Bishop at our great English Cathedral of Canterbury. And there is still a "S. Patrick's Church "on the same spot at Armagh.

Then St. Patrick went to Munster, and so in the course of his life preached and taught through the whole of Ireland.

When at last he felt that he had grown old, and knew that he soon would die, he made his way back to the place where he had done his first Christian work. He died at Saul, that place, you remember, which had been given to him by Dichu for the site of his first church.

The monks, who had all loved him so dearly, could not agree as to where he was to be laid in his last long rest. The men of Armagh wished to have him in their midst; the men of Down wanted to keep him near them. At last they said they would settle the dispute by a sign. So the monks of Saul took two oxen which had never been tamed, yoked them to the cart which bore the body of their beloved master, left them quite without guide, and watched to see which way they would turn. The oxen went on till they came to that spot where stands now the Cathedral of Downpatrick. There they stopped and stood still.

It is believed that the bones of St. Patrick still lie beneath this cathedral.