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Life and Confession of St. Patrick: Captivity in Ireland

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Posted by "monasette" on

Posted by "monasette" on

Childhood of St. Patrick

Fourth century Ireland was no place for a young man who was "barely sixteen" and in his own words, "almost as a boy not able to speak," when he was captured from his hometown in England. The young St Patrick had grown up in Banna Venta Bernia (thought to be near today's Carlisle), the son of deacon Calpornius, a priest. Patrick's autobiographical letter, Confessio (Declaration in Latin), describes his early education before his captivity as "lack of knowledge", "lack of education", "lack of fluency", "stammering tongues", and "stupid me" unable to discern "what to pursue and what to avoid." Yet he says this knowledge was enough to leave him without excuse for his ignorance. He is most woeful at his ignorance of "both law and sacred Scripture alike," though this humility before others gave him a winsome and sincere personality.

Patrick's Confessio says he was at his father's small estate which was nearby Banna, possibly shepherding, farming, or even managing his father's affairs, when heathen Celtic warriors descended upon the land by sea and captured Patrick and also "a great number of people," who were probably from surrounding fields or villages.

St. Patrick Info

St. Patrick's story took place in the fields and hills of Ireland where he was a shepherd for six years.

St. Patrick's story took place in the fields and hills of Ireland where he was a shepherd for six years.

A Slave in Ireland

Patrick's Confessio is a praiseworthy testimony of God's graciousness and his own humility. Instead of protesting the injustice of being taken as a slave, Patrick attributes the "well-deserved" circumstance to God's sovereign plan, who "revealed [Himself] to us in His wrath;" "for we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep His commandments, and we disobeyed our bishops who were reminding us of our salvation." Patrick doesn't go into much detail about his position as an Irish captive except that it was just punishment for his rebellion against God, he kept a "small existence among strangers."

It was this small and unimportant existence that humbled him enough to bring him to repentance. Patrick's Confession is a beautiful testimony of God's grace:

Then the Lord made me aware of my unbelief, so that --however late-- I might recollect my offences and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God. It was He who took heed of my insignificance, who pitied my youth and ignorance, who watched over me as a father would a son. That is why I cannot remain silent... about the great favours and graces which the Lord designed to grant me in the land of my captivity. For the way to make repayment for that revelation of God through capture and enslavement is to declare and make known His wonders to every race under heaven. (Translated from Latin, full Confessio available at the Saint Patrick Centre Website).

He tells how he found himself "pasturing flocks daily," often "in the woods and on the mountain in snow, frost, and rain." During this time "more and more the love and fear of God" came to him and he began to pray "a number of times each day." His faith was growing and his "spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day -- and in the night nearly as often... waking to pray before first light." Though the elements of wind and cold and dampness would have weakened him in any other situation, he describes feeling no ill effect, "nor was I in any way sluggish." Looking back on his life with the wisdom of many years, he realizes that at that time the Spirit was "seething" within him, giving him unimaginable health. Indeed, some accounts record that he lived to 100 years, and we can safely believe that it was God's gracious strength that made St. Patrick so healthy and able to serve Him.

St Patrick's Confession Gave Glory to God


Saint Patrick's Escape from Ireland

Six years as a shepherd boy slave passed in this way: praying nearly without ceasing, and communion with Christ bringing such comfort and protection that he did not need warmth or shelter. One night, he writes, there was a voice that spoke to him in his sleep, saying: "It is good that you fast, who will go soon to your home land." There was a short space of time, then: "Look! Your ship is ready." The story reads much like the story of Peter being miraculously released from prison in Acts 12. All the preparations being divinely made, both Peter and St. Patrick merely had to follow the commands they were given, and they were free. Patrick writes that the ship prepared for him was 200 miles away, at a place he had never been before. There was no difficulty in leaving the man he had served under; it seems that the man made no move to find or reclaim him. St. Patrick "traveled with the aid of God, who guided me as His son successfully on his way, and I had nothing to fear until I arrived at that ship."

At the ship, which was waiting exactly where he had been told it would be, Patrick explained to the sailors that he had the funds able to sail with them if they would take him, and they were in agreement until he refused to complete the transaction with a common pagan practice of submission, a practice both crude and unchaste.¹ Immediately the sailing crew grew furious with Patrick and the captain declared, "Your wish to travel with us is quite futile." But as Patrick walked away, making plans in his head to return to his servitude as shepherd, he heard one of the men's voices calling out to him to come back. They agreed to accept him as a passenger in good faith, and they would allow him to bind himself to them in whatever way he wished. They set sail right away.

After only three days on the water, they reached land and travelled twenty-eight days on foot through a wilderness. It is unclear, from Patrick's letter, what land mass they were now on. However, Patrick says in his letter that his group ran out of food and began to starve in this wilderness, so it is possible that they were in a remote part of Britain.

The half-dead and hungry sailors began to taunt Patrick about his religion. "What's this, Christian? You say you God is great and all powerful. Then why can't you pray for us? For we are in danger of dying of hunger." Patrick responded to them with all the confidence that his long years of cold, hunger, and prayer had given him: "Trust in the Lord my God and turn to him with all your hearts, since nothing is impossible for him, that he may send you today more than sufficient food for your journey-- for he has an abundance everywhere."

Immediately a herd of pigs ran up to them, and the sailors easily killed and feasted on the hogs. "After this they gave the greatest thanks to God, and I gained prestige in their eyes. From that point onward they had abundant food." They even tried to offer a bit of wild honey to Patrick as a sacrifice, but Patrick would have none of it.


¹Patrick describes this pagan practice: "Furthermore, I refused for fear of God, to suck their nipples. Nevertheless I hoped that some of them would come to faith in Jesus Christ."


St. Patrick Comes Home to Britain

On the tenth day they met some other people, and it was at that point that their food ran out again. Just like the manna in the wilderness, nothing was left after their needs were met.

A few years later, Patrick came home to his family. They received him as their dear son, and asked him if he would be content to never leave them again, after "such tribulations" he had undergone. However, God was soon to call him for greater works.

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But while I was there, in a night vision, I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victorious, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: "the voice of the Irish." As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea and they cried out, as with one voice: "We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.' I was pierced by great emotion and could not read on and so I woke. Thank God that after my years the Lord answered my call according to their cry."

This call to ministry is much like the call Apostle Paul received from a Macedonian man who appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Come over here and help us." Patrick responded to this call with eagerness, recording that "whereas once I did not even consider my own salvation, now the salvation of others is my care and concern. Ancient historians say that Patrick stayed in Britain with his family only a few more years so he could become a priest and prepare for his mission work to the Irish.

© 2010 Jane Grey

Melody for St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer Song

The Breastplate Prayer of Patrick

While preparing to go back to Ireland, it is said that Patrick wrote this prayer as a cry to the Lord for an effective and God-glorifying witness to the heathen of Ireland. (Translated from the original Irish Celtic language.) The organ music in the video above is the traditional hymn melody for the words below.

St. Patrick's Prayer

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity, in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

The rest of St. Patrick's Story....

Read the next part of the story: St. Patrick's evangelism of Ireland, in which he challenges kings and magicians to behold the power of God, battles the wit and philosophy of a beautiful princess, plants churches in the darkest valleys, obtains a noble follower who is miraculously spared from a magician's curse, and baptizes thousands of sincere converts in the name of Jesus Christ.

St. Patrick's Grave

The burial place of St. Patrick.

The burial place of St. Patrick.


Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on August 31, 2011:

Royal, thank you for your vote and for your expression of appreciation! I really enjoy reading about Patrick, and I am inspired to do daring and faith-filled acts in the name of Christ, as he did. I think it is all to easy to be comfortable and to forget that there are people perishing every day who don't know Christ. May we all stand up with the Christians of old in their brave witness!

Royal on August 28, 2011:


Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on January 26, 2011:

Brigit, Thank you for your true and gracious words! I'm excited to have a visitor from Ireland who understands the mighty works of God in her country. Let's pray for the growth of the true and faithful churches in Ireland, shall we? And let's raise up more children who will bless God as Patrick did.


Brigit on January 25, 2011:

Thank you,sister,for this wonderful hub! :) St Patrick was a true man of God,who brought us the light of christian belief,preciously and faithfully kept by our monks and nuns for thousands of years. Yes,there were faults in our religion,for example the horrible crimes and abuse what the "Sisters of Mercy" committed against Irish women in Magdalene laundries,or how some priests assaulted sexually young boys or girls,they betrayed the trust of people.But thank God,this belongs to the past now,the pharisee-like unbiblical fanatism have gone,true christianity,brought by Patrick,remained.The crimes of personal members of church don't mean that ALL religious people are like this.This doesn't mean that we should abandon the faith of God,which the half of people sadly did,by no means! You're right,we also drink a lot to st Patrick's Day,this is completely against the commemoration idea of our saint.... But anyway,we can enjoy the grace and love of God here.May He bless our green lovely Ireland and her people,and you too...

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on March 17, 2010:

Thanks, Trish! I'm linking to yours as well.

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on March 17, 2010:

As I mentioned on the other hub, I have done something on Saint Patrick too ~ especially for today ~ and I have linked this to it. I hope that this is ok. :)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 25, 2010:

Read the rest of Patrick's story here: .

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 25, 2010:

TnFlash, You are too kind, and I am so grateful for your backlinks and vote of approval! I was challenged and inspired by the story, so I wanted to do it justice. Thank you, thank you!


Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 25, 2010:

LCTodd1947, I'm glad you enjoyed my article! I too was blessed by the great testimony of Patrick's connection with God.

TnFlash from Tampa, Florida on February 25, 2010:

Great Hub! Great story! I have never read the story of Saint Patrick. It is a captivating story. Your Hub was well written and obviously well researched. Good work. I have up-rated and stumbled this article.

Linda Todd from Charleston on February 24, 2010:

Never heard the whole story before and it is very beautiful. He had a connection with God and God blessed his obedience.

thank you so well presented

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 24, 2010:

Joy at Home (beautiful name~ by the way), I agree, this is a beautiful prayer! Rich with absolute truth and sacred Scripture. Thank you for your kind comment!


Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 24, 2010:

Thank you for reading, Saintatlarge! Yes, I have been encouraged and invigorated by my research of Patrick, mostly by how greatly he was used by God and how singularly his passions were focused on one thing: to evangelize for Christ. Your thoughtful comment was very kind, and I appreciate having readers like you!


Joilene Rasmussen from United States on February 24, 2010:

That is one of the neatest prayers I've ever seen. Thank you for a tremendously simple but powerful article.

Saint Lawrence from Canada on February 24, 2010:

Thank you Jane for this work of expouding to us a partial light into St. Patrick's life. It has been many years since i looked in depth at this man, but he left an impression on my heart then and again now. i await the next part to his story.

Blessings L.

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 23, 2010:

Thanks, Rose! It's funny how so many years can go by and leave us forgetting the real man --and the real God-- behind all the St. Patrick's day hype. We modern "pagans" have resorted to almost worshipping the holiday or worshipping Ireland and Celtic Heathenism, which is exactly the opposite of what Patrick would have wanted us to do. In fact, Patrick wouldn't have even wanted this holiday named after himself. I think it would have been more to his desires if we had called St. Patrick's day a national day of prayer, or something very similar. Thanks for your comment! We can still enjoy our corned beef and Guiness to the glory of God. ;)

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 23, 2010:

Coffeesnob, Patrick's life has always impressed me too! I realized today that there was no reason for Patrick to have been able to be transformed so much to be able to witness so effectively without the empowering strength of God. It is obvious by his letter that God was always foremost on his mind, and he was quoting Scripture almost every other sentence! Thank you for reading, and for your generous comment.


Rose West from Michigan on February 23, 2010:

Excellent work, Jane! So often we say "St. Patrick's Day" and think about "green and Irish eyes, corned beef and Guinness", but rarely do we remember the namesake of the holiday.

coffeesnob on February 23, 2010:


Indeed this was excellent. I have always been impressed with the life of St patrick. You have expounded well and shown his faith in God to be his most powerful assett

Ann Leavitt (author) from Oregon on February 23, 2010:

You're so welcome, Sis! Thanks for reading. I hope to continue the story of his life soon!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on February 23, 2010:

Excellent Hub - I was unfamiliar with the story of St. Patrick - thank you for sharing. Best, Sis

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