Saint Patrick

It’s Saint Patrick’s Day today, so before the alcohol and the party mood take over, let’s take a look at Saint Paddy – sorry: Saint Patrick.

To start with, Patrick was not Irish. He was a Scotsman, had Scotland existed at the time [or Welsh, had Wales existed at the time – but he was from what is now Great Britain, that much is certain]. But in the 4th century the area was part of Pictish kingdoms which Irish people considered good hunting ground for slaves. When Patrick was 16 he was captured by these Irish slave traders and taken to Ireland. He worked as a shepherd there, but after six years he escaped, inspired by a dream that convinced him he should go to England. From there he went to the European mainland, where he studied at several monasteries. He eventually was ordained a priest and consecrated a bishop. The pope then sent Patrick back to the British Isles to evangelise them. He spent some 33 years in Ireland, during which he basically converted the entire island to Christianity. He died in County Down, now part of Northern Ireland, of natural causes.

Ireland’s monasteries subsequently became the great repositories of knowledge during the Middle Ages. Not too shabby for a slave boy.

Saint Patrick is of course the patron saints of all Ireland, but is also popular as the patron of individual dioceses in Ireland, the United States, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

A powerful prayer attributed to him is the one known as Saint Patrick’s breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

– translated by Cecil Frances Alexander (1823–1895).


2 thoughts on “Saint Patrick”

    1. Sources seem to disagree then. I’ve found texts which place him in what is now Scotland. Not that either country really existed at the time, of course. Let’s just say he was of Celtic origin.

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