Saint Patrick

In Ireland

In the winter of 432 Patrick landed near Saul and remained until spring, when he went to Tara and gained his first major converts. He defied the pagan priests of Tara by kindling the Easter fire on Slane, a nearby hill. This challenge to paganism created at first indignation, and subsequently respect, in the court of the high king. Tara became Patrick's headquarters, and with a band of followers he successively converted Meath, Leitrim, Cavan, and W Ireland. Further details of his missions are only generally known.

In 444 or 445, with the approval of Pope St. Leo I, Patrick established his archiepiscopal see at Armagh. St. Patrick's mission was successful; Ireland was almost entirely Christian by the time of his death. He understood and wisely preserved the social structure of the country, converting the people tribe by tribe. Out of his hierarchy, organized by tribal units, developed the Celtic abbot-bishop system. At Patrick's instance, the traditional laws of Ireland were codified. Patrick modified them to harmonize with Christian practice, and he mitigated the harsher ones, particularly those that dealt with slaves and taxation of the poor. He introduced the Roman alphabet. In 457 he retired to Saul, where he died.

He was buried in Downpatrick, which was a great European shrine until its destruction by the English government in 1539. Also enshrined to him is Croaghpatrick. Patrick's connection with Saint Patrick's Purgatory in Lough Derg is undoubtedly only legendary. His personality is said to have been unusually winning, and many legends have become attached to his name. Feast: Mar. 17.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Saints