I’m No Saint

Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, a place of Catholic pilgrimage where tradition holds that St. Patrick spent 40 days fasting

Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, a place of Catholic pilgrimage where tradition holds that St. Patrick spent 40 days fasting


A “saint” who was never made a saint by the church which claims him.

Culturally he was almost certainly a Welshman.  Or more specifically, he was “Romano-Welsh”, born in about 386 CE to wealthy parents who lived and prospered at the outer British fringe of the Roman Empire.

In 386 CE, Wales encompassed lands now lying in Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland.

Many scholars believe he was from a part of ancient Wales now lying in SW Scotland.

His real name will probably never be known for certain – some believe his native Welsh name was “Maewyn Succat“, but it is not impossible that his ethnic roots lay elsewhere within the Roman Empire, and his parents just happened to be living in Wales at the time of his birth.

History has remembered him as “Patrick“, from the Latin name “Patricius” – meaning “noble one”.

“Padraic” or “Padrig” to his Gaelic-speaking contemporaries.

“Paddy” to his friends <joke>




At the time of Patrick‘s birth in about 386 CE, Britain had only recently been introduced to Christianity, following upon Roman Emperor Constantine’s own conversion to that faith a generation or two earlier.  In Roman Britain, Christians were seen as just one religious cult among many.  Patrick’s parents, and one of his grandfathers, was a follower of the multi-branched cult of Christianity – but not Patrick.

Patrick also happened to be born about three years after the armies of Rome were withdrawn from Great Britain, following over three and a half centuries of indigenous British-Roman cultural integration.  Do not confuse the ancient Britons or “British” peoples with the later Germanic “English”.

Other northern European peoples who had never fallen under Roman control were not slow in spotting the now poorly defended island – raids for booty and land settlement began in earnest.

Germanic peoples from what is now Northern Germany and Denmark arrived in boats from coasts lying to the southeast of Britain.

“Picts” swept down from Caledonia in the north, and the Irish or Gaels raided from Hibernia, across the Irish Sea to the west.

It was during one such Irish raid on the west coast of Wales that Maewyn Succat was taken prisoner (according to his own account), and sold as a slave to an Irish buyer, who set him to work as a herdsman for many years – most likely somewhere in or around present-day County Antrim.  Maewyn  says that it was only during his six years of slavery that he began to cling to the faith of his fathers.

Maewyn eventually escaped back home to Wales, spent some time travelling, and acquired an education.

Around the 450s CE, something compelled him to return to Ireland – this time operating out of what is present-day County Mayo.  His own account tells of a need to share his growing sense of religious fervour.

Patrick was not the first Christian missionary in Ireland.  That distinction belongs to Palladius, who was sent in 431 CE to act as the first bishop to those Irish who had already accepted the Christian message.  How these Gaels first came into contact with Christianity is unclear.

The Roman Catholic Church later claimed that their own Pope Celestine I had sent Maewyn/Patrick to Ireland as a missionary, but there is simply no documentary evidence for this claim.

Patrick” is the only known Romano-Welsh or Romano-British Christian to have written of his own life and thoughts, and he says nothing of being sent by the Roman Church to Ireland, nor does the contemporary or near-contemporary Roman Catholic Church mention him.  It would seem that Patrick was simply part of the wider Christian cult which was popular at the time.

These earliest British, Welsh, Gaelic, and Gallic Christians were “free agents”, unconnected to any formal church structures, and followers of no formal doctrine. While they might have venerated or respected individual Roman Christians, they most certainly were not “Catholics” or “Roman Catholics” in the modern sense of those terms.

Ireland is the only “pagan” nation believed to have become almost wholly Christianised without widespread bloodshed.  It is worth pondering whether this was due not so much to the power of the Christian message, as to the introduction of LITERACY, which arrived with the new religion.

Irish chieftains in the NW of the island must have been impressed by the ability of these literate Christians to bypass the years of training required by the Druidic class.  Being able to store ancestral memory, poetry, legal and religious tracts, and FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS on parchments, rather than within physical human memory, would have made a man like Patrick very useful indeed…

Literacy is an awesome power, and Latin literacy in particular would have allowed a relative economic backwater and fringe linguistic community to engage more fully in European trade and diplomacy via the emerging lingua franca of the European Christian church.

This extra-somatic literacy eventually eliminated much of the raison d’etre for the entire Druidic stratum/class of society – a class which had hitherto been extremely powerful – and replaced that class with a new bureaucracy of literate Christian scribes/monks.  Needless to say, the Druidic class would have pushed-back against their loss of social status.

Patrick’s own “Confessio” hints at these struggles and intrigues – and this quasi-history is far more interesting than later folk tales and legends fabricated by the Catholic church concerning snake banishing and numerous other outlandish “miracles”.

Technically, Patrick isn’t even a saint!  His life and works took place in a time before the rules for canonisation had even been devised and laid-down.

Whatever about technicalities, he was being venerated as the patron saint of Ireland by the 7th century, and his day was marked by sombre reflection and prayer until 19th and 20th century Irish-Americans changed gears…

#history #saintpatrick

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *