The History of Saint Patrick

The authentic history of Saint Patrick can be hard to know amidst all the myth and folklore. But thanks to his own writings, a story does emerge that is just as inspirational as any legend.


The history of Saint Patrick began in Scotland about 387 AD. when Maewyn Succat was born to Calpurnius in Bannavem Taburmiae.

His father was a deacon, his grandfather was a priest, and the boy christened "Patrick" was destined to be one of the most beloved saints in all the world for all time.

If not for his own writings, we would know very little of the history of Saint Patrick. Although he felt ashamed about his lack of education, he was literate and wise enough to write his own story, as well as various letters.

There are two documents which historians agree are authentic documents written by Saint Patrick himself.

One is a letter to Coroticus pleading for the freedom of many of his followers who were being held as slaves.

The other is his Confessio, which he felt compelled to write near the end of his life.

The "Confessio" is the most comprehensive documentation of the history of Saint Patrick, by far. In it he not only reveals much about his youth and how he came to be the faithful servant of God he was. He also carefully and eloquently explains why he was suitable to be the leader of the Christian movement in Ireland.

The history of Saint Patrick begins ordinarily with a typical young boy, not very interested in either religious or academic training. Around the age of fifteen, he alludes to committing some kind of transgression for which he is greatly ashamed. Whatever it was, it took place over the course of one hour and was never repeated again. It's anyone's guess what this transgression was, but it undoubtedly haunted Patrick throughout his life.

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The next chapter in the history of Saint Patrick begins at the age of sixteen, when he was captured by Irish marauders and sold into slavery. In Ireland, legends say that Niall of the Nine Hostages was their leader.

According to his "Confessio", he believed that the reason he and thousands of others were captured, taken from their homes and families and sold into slavery, was God's wrath. He believed he had brought his circumstances upon himself.

During his six hard years herding sheep as a slave to Milchu on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim, he turned to Christ for comfort, strength, protection, and wisdom. Patrick wrote that God watched over him, had mercy upon him and finally opened his eyes to the ways of the Lord.

One could argue that the history of Saint Patrick truly began in his years as a slave, for it was then that he started the path to sainthood.

"I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain."

He also learned the language and culture of the Irish Celtic people. This knowledge would serve him well later, giving him a deeper understanding of those he was trying to convert than his predecessors had.

As a shepherd slave, he prayed his faith grew his times of prayer grew in turn.

"...I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time."

He mentions "twelve trials" that threatened his soul in addition to the suffering he faced at the hands of men and that he was given "...abundant warnings through divine prophecy." Repeatedly, he was assured by divine messages. Patrick wrote that God even saved him from an attack by Satan himself.

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The history of Saint Patrick continues when on one fateful night he heard a voice in a dream telling him he would soon be heading home. Then another dream told him his ship was ready for him. This ship home was two hundred miles away in a place he had never been...where nothing and no-one would be familiar to him. Yet this young man, holding tight to his faith, bravely set out on foot for his promised vessel home.

He wrote that God showed him the way and cleared the danger from his journey. He fearlessly braved onward to freedom. And his faith was rewarded.

Indeed his ship was waiting for him...leaving the exact day he arrived. At first the men didn't want to let him go with them. Patrick turned and departed, praying as he left. No sooner was his prayer finished than they began shouting for him to come back. Although the men were "barbarians", he courageously and faithfully went out to sea with them.

They sailed for three days, then landed and traveled on foot for four weeks through the wilderness. They soon ran out of food and began to lose hope of surviving the journey. They besieged Patrick to pray for them. He replied with confidence,

"Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that today he will send food for you on your road, until you be sated, because everywhere he abounds."

The food came and restored the men's strength. From then on, they were never hungry again. They gave thanks to God and respect to Patrick.

The history of Saint Patrick includes another abduction after his journey at sea. He was taken captive once again, but on the first night of this captivity, he heard a voice telling him he'd only be held for two months this time. He wrote that the Lord saved him on the sixtieth night and that he successfully escaped.

At last, he returned to his family in Britain, who welcomed him with open arms and begged him to never leave them again. However much he loved his family, he had to answer the call of his destiny. The history of Saint Patrick had just begun.

He was trained to be a Catholic missionary in France. At some point in his religious training, he had a vision that would bring him closer to his destiny.

In the vision, a spirit named Victoricus had come from Ireland with a letter entitled "The Voice of the Irish". As he read the letter, he heard voices crying out,

"We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us."

Another night came and with it another message,

"He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you."

Soon, Pope Celestine I entrusted Patrick with the mission of bringing the people of Ireland into the Christian faith. He ordained Patrick the new Bishop of Ireland, and Patrick embraced his mission bravely and wholeheartedly.

The history of Saint Patrick's mission in Ireland had begun.

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He arrived in Ireland at Strangford Lough in 432 with about twenty followers. Regardless of how ashamed he felt at his lack of scholarly and religious training in his early years, he faced his mission with courage, gratitude, and humility. Fearsome was his mission, after all.

Upon returning to Ireland, his ability to fluently speak the native tongue and his deep understanding of the Druid beliefs and rituals made his mission easier. Saint Patrick's sermons were powerful. He successfully converted many to Christianity, including warrior chiefs and princes. He baptized them in thousands of "Holy Wells" throughout Ireland.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the history of Saint Patrick, in my opinion, is that he had a unique way of converting the Celtic spirit from Druid paganism to Irish Catholicism. His many years as a slave in Ireland were somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Those years had taught him the language, customs and rituals of the Irish Celtic people. This understanding of their culture enabled him to speak to their hearts and respect their spirituality.

Instead of just preaching religious dogma, ethics, and the pursuit of eternal life St. Patrick wisely incorporated mysteries, symbols, and rituals with which they were already familiar to explain Christian principles. He never asked them to stop believing in the supernatural beings they had worshipped for eons. Instead, he told them to regard these "gods" whom they had feared for so long as demons. Instead of fearing them, they could have the power through Christ to defeat them.

The Druid Priests were fierce opponents of his mission. They were not only skilled in Pagan magic. They were also royal advisers, well-versed in secular knowledge of law and history. They knew he was a threat to their dominance and power in Ireland, so they arrested him many times and even plotted to kill him.

Their goal was to return Ireland's spiritual pursuits to the leadership of the Druid High Priests by eliminating Saint Patrick. But all their attempts to silence him were thwarted. He was always saved, because " time had not yet come."

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There was another way his years of slavery enabled him to better serve Ireland in the long run. Those many years living as a slave made him a very passionate voice against the institution of slavery. This part of the history of Saint Patrick is not well-known. Although slavery had been accepted for thousands of years as part of life, Saint Patrick was the first Christian to proclaim it a sin. In fact, he wrote a letter excommunicating a British tyrant for carrying off some of his converts into slavery.

Whether he succeeded in freeing these particular people is unknown. But one of the most remarkable pieces of the history of Saint Patrick is that he undoubtedly ended the Irish slave trade once and for all. Just one more reason he was a man to whom the Irish owe a great deal.

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No matter what opposition he faced, he always overcame it and relentlessly continued his mission. He took heart that the work he did would lay a strong foundation of faith in the land of Eire. St. Patrick took the Gospel where no-one had gone "...the outermost regions beyond which no one lived, and where no one had ever penetrated before...".

He faithfully traveled all over the Emerald Isle winning converts every step of the way. He set up numerous monasteries, churches, and schools. This established a firm foundation of Christianity for generations to come throughout Ireland.

Through St. Patrick, countless Irish people were converted to Christianity, and through the numerous priests he ordained the word of God spread throughout the Emerald Isle exponentially. He was showered with gifts of thanks by his converts...but he always gave them back so no-one could ever accuse him justly of dishonesty.

He felt compelled to share his faith with the world as a way to repay God for all the blessings he had received. He felt fortunate to be given the mission he had. In his mind it was something beyond his wildest dreams.

Although he longed to return to Britain and to Gaul to visit his "kinfolk" and his "brethren", he strongly believed that it was God's will that he remain in Ireland for the rest of his life.

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The history of Saint Patrick is a story full of drama, inspiration, heartache, suspense, and triumph. St. Patrick was utterly and completely devoted to Christ. In between saving souls, building schools and churches, and generally spreading the blessings of God throughout the Emerald Isle, he spent every waking moment in service and prayer to God.

Many times he, like Moses and Jesus, would retreat into solitude to devote himself to prayer and penance. The places he chose for retreat are considered some of the most sacred places in Ireland. Perhaps the most sacred of these places is Croagh Patrick, located in the Connaught.

Since Ireland wasn't part of the Roman Empire, St. Patrick is credited with being the first to carry Christianity outside the borders of the Roman Empire. The history of Saint Patrick's mission in Ireland spans more than thirty years.

He died sometime between 461 and 493 AD, many believe on March 17. The only part of Ireland that still practiced Paganism when he died was the province of Munster, in Southern Ireland. But even this region was converted within a century or so of his death.

The history of Saint Patrick is a testament of passion, courage, selflessness and faith. He lived up to and surpassed all Christian virtues. He shunned material possessions. Instead he found his treasures in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not since Christ himself had there been such love and sacrifice of one man for so many souls. And thanks to his incredible sacrifice, his innumerable prayers, and his extraordinary love the people of Ireland were saved.

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St. Patrick of Ireland: In His Own Words
An accurate history of Saint Patrick is difficult to sort out amongst all the legends. The real St. Patrick of Ireland can be found in his own words.

Saint Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Introduction to and list of all the articles about Saint Patrick on, including the legends and history of Saint Patrick.

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