On the Life of St. Patrick

(Translated by Whitley Stokes)

Populus qui sedebat in tenebris vidit lucem magnam. The people that sat in darkness beheld a great light. Et sedentibus in regione et in umbra mortis lux orta eis. They that were in the land and in the shadow of death found a light whence came their illumination.

The Holy Spirit, the spirit which is nobler than every spirit, the spirit which inspired both churches of the Old Law and of the New Testament with the grace of wisdom and prophecy, it was that spirit which spake those words through the mouth of the chief prophet Isiah son of Amoz; de cujus laude dicitur quod non tam dicendus esset propheta quam evangelista. To praise him, St. Jerome said that it were meeter to call him an evangelist than a prophet, because of the clearness and the fitness for the New Testament wherewith he told the tidings of Christ. Ita enim universa Christi ecclesiaeque mysteria ad lucidum prosecutus est ut non eum putes de futuro vaticinari sed de praeterito historiam texere. For such was the clearness wherewith he told all the mysteries of Christ and the Holy Church that one would not think that it was a prophecy of things to come he was making, but a declaration of things already foregone after they had been done completely.

Now one of his manifest prophecies is what is here set forth through a narrative of what is past.

Populus qui sedebat in tenebris vidit lucem magnam. The people that sat in darkness beheld a great light. Now the prophet has a parallel passage as far as the place where previously in the same story he said primo tempore allevata terra Zabulon et terra Neptalim, there came with … of time, great glory and renown to the tribe of Zabulon and to the tribe of Naphtali. Inde dicitur, after these words he said, Populus qui sedebat in tenebris. The people who sat in darkness if [we go] according to history, this was the people


of Israel who were biding in the gloom of slavery by the Assyrians. They beheld the light of their redemption from that captivity, to wit, Hesdras and Nehemias, Jeshua and Zerubbabel. But if [we go] according to the spiritual sense, the people mentioned here are the people of the gentiles who were in the darkness of ignorance, adoring idols and images until the true Light arose, to wit, Jesus Christ with his apostles. Nox enim erat in mundo usque dum Christus, qui sol justitiae est, radios suos aspersit in mundum. For there was great darkness and dimness over the hearts of the heathen until the Sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, scattered his splendors throughout the four quarters of the world to enlighten it.

Now one of the splendours which the Sun of righteousness shed upon the world was the splendour, and the flame, the precious stone and shining lamp which enligthened the west of the world, Sanctus Patricius Episcopus, to wit, holy Patrick, high bishop of the west of the world, father of the baptism and belief of the men of Ireland.

Now the day whereon there is told and set forth, in the churches of the Christians, somewhat of his miracles and marvels, and of the parents of whom he was born, and of the earthly stock of the holy Patrick, is the sixteenth of the Kalends of April as to the day of the solar month.

Now Patrick’s race was of the Britons of Dumbarton. Calpurn was his father’s name, a high priest was he. Otid (Potitus) was the name of his grandfather: he was a deacon. But Conchess was his mother’s name: daughter was she of Ochbas: of France was her race, that is, she was a sister of Martin’s.

Patrick, then, (was) son of Calpurn, son of Otid, son of Odisse, son of Gorniuth, son of Lubeniuth, son of Mercut, son of Otta, son of Muric, son of Oricc, son of Leo, son of Maximus, son of Ecretus, son of Eresus, son of Felestus, son of Ferinus, son of Brittus, from whom are the Britons.

He had five sisters, namely, Lupait and Tigris and Darerca and Liamain and Richell.

At Nemthur, now, was he born, and (as to) the flagstone on which he was born, when any one commits perjury thereunder, it sheds water as if it were bewailing the false declaration. If his oath is true the stone abides in its proper nature.


Now when the holy Patrick was born, he was brought to be baptized to the blind flat-faced youth named Gornias. But Gornias had not water wherewith he could perform the baptism, so with the infant’s hand he made the sign of the cross over the earth, and a wellspring of water brake therefrom. Gornias put the water on his own face, and it healed him at once, and he understood the letters (of the alphabet), though he had never seen them before. Now here at one time God wrought a threefold miracle for Patrick, the wellspring of water from the earth, and his eyesight to the blind youth, and skill in reading aloud the order of baptism without knowing the letters beforehand. Thereafter Patrick was baptized.

The holy Patrick was reared at Nemthur until he was a lad; and overmany to recount and declare are the miracles and marvels that the Lord wrought for him in his childhood and in his boyhood, for the grace of God accompanied him at every age and in every thing that he did. But we will relate a few of the many of them.

Once upon a time came a flood of water into the house wherein was Patrick, and quenched all the fire, and the vessels were afloat. Patrick then went to a dry place which was in the house and dipt his five fingers into the water, and the five drops which trickled from them became sparks of fire, and that fire was kindled in the house, and the water at once ceased to rise, and God’s name and Saint Patrick’s were magnified through that miracle.

At another time Patrick brought a lapful of pieces of ice and left them on the floor in the presence of his fostermother. ‘We rather need a faggot of withered sticks for fire,’ said his fostermother. Then Patrick put the ice upon the fire, and breathed under it, and it blazed like withered sticks. So God’s name and Patrick’s were magnified thereby.

At another time a wolf went and carried off a sheep of the flock from Patrick when he was shepherding; and his fostermother rebuked him much for the loss of the sheep. But as Patrick was at the same place the next day, the wolf came and shewed the sheep safe before him, [which thing was a marvel] for up to that time restitution from him was not usual. God’s name and Patrick’s were magnified therein.

At another time Patrick went along with his fosterfather to a meeting of the Britons. When they came to the meeting the


fosterfather died of a sudden death. But when Patrick perceived his fosterer’s death, he said to him, ‘Arise and let us go to our home.’ Straightway at Patrick’s word the fosterfather arose from death.

On a time his fostermother was unthankful to him because he brought no honey from the combs as the little boys of the hamlet were wont to bring to their mothers. Patrick fills a vessel out of the stream that was nearest to him, and he blessed the water, and it was turned to honey, and he gave it to his fostermother, so that she had it for relics, and it used to cure every disease and every illness.

Once upon a time there died the son of a certain woman, who used to help his (Patrick’s) fostermother in milking her kine. So the fosteress said to her ‘Bring with thee thy (dead)

son into the cowshed this day, as thou wert used to bring him every day,’ and thus it was done. Now as the women were milking, and the dead child on the floor of the byre, his fosteress gave new milk to Patrick, and said to him ‘Call to thee thy comrade that he as well as

thou may drink it.’ Patrick said ‘ Come, my comrade, that we may drink it together,’ and at Patrick’s call the boy arose at once from death, and then they both drank it equally together.

At another time as Patrick and his sister Lupait were herding sheep, the lambs came, as was their wont, suddenly to their mothers. When Patrick and his sister saw that, they ran swiftly to separate the lambs, and the girl fell down, and her head struck against a stone, so that death was near her. Patrick came to her without delay, and made the sign of the cross over the wound so that it healed without any disease therefrom.

Once upon a time Patrick’s fostermother went to milk a cow, and he went to drink a draught of new milk. The cow goes mad in the byre. A devil entered into her so that she killed five other kine. Great sadness was upon his fostermother for the destruction of the kine, and she told him to bring them to life. Thereafter he brought the (dead) kine to life and the mad cow he cures.

At another time the king’s steward ordered Patrick’s fostermother to cleanse the hearth of the palace at Dumbarton. So Patrick came with his fostermother on the way to cleanse the hearth. Then the angel came to Patrick and said to him ‘make prayer, and this work will not be needed of thee.’ So Patrick prayed, and the


angel cleansed the hearth that night. Patrick said on the morrow that if all the firewood of Britain were burnt on the hearth, it need not be cleansed till Doom. So it is still fulfilled.

At another time the king’s steward went to demand curds and butter of Patrick’s fostermother, and naught had she could give for the tribute. Then of the snow Patrick made the curds and the butter, and they were taken from him to the king. Now when those things were shewn to the king, they changed into their own nature. After that, the king always forgave the tribute to Patrick, so God’s name and Patrick’s were magnified through that miracle.

But the number of miracles and of wonders which Patrick in his childhood wrought in those lands, it is not possible for any one to enumerate or relate them.

Now this was the cause of Patrick’s coming to Ireland. Seven sons of Sechtmad, to wit, seven sons of the King of Britain, were in exile. They wrought rapine in the land of Britain, and Ulstermen were along with them, and so they brought Patrick in captivity to Ireland, and his two sisters Tigris and Lupait, and they sold Patrick to Míliucc maccu Buain, that is, to the King of Dalaraide, and to his three brothers, and they sold his two sisters in Conaille Muirthemne, and nothing was well known of them, (that is) and no one of them knew into what land another was sold.

Now Patrick served the king and his three brothers, wherefore there was given unto him the name of Cothraige, that is, the slave of four persons. Now four names had he, to wit, Succet, his name from his parents: Cothraige, when he served the four persons: Magonius (i.e.magis agens, his name with Germanus: Patricius (that is, “father of citizens”) his name with Peter’s successor, Celestinus.

Now when Míliucc saw that Patrick was a faithful slave, he bought him from the other three that he might serve him alone. And he served him to the end of seven years after the custom of the Hebrews, and what was committed unto him was the herding of swine in the wilderness of Sliab Mis.

Howbeit, Victor an angel, used to come to speak unto him, and to teach him as to performing devotion, that is, one


hundred genuflexions every day and a hundred every night he used to make. Now when Patrick had been serving seven years, after the custom of the Hebrews, the angel said to him in a vision ‘Bene oras et bene jejunas, cito iturus eris ad patriam tuam,’ that is, ‘well thou prayest, well thou fastest, quickly shalt thou go to thine own fatherland.’

Now the time of Patrick’s release from bondage drew nigh, for the heathen were wont to free their slaves in the seventh year. As Míliucc could not think how (else) he could detain Patrick, he bought a bondmaid and wedded her to Patrick. On the bridalnight, when they were put into a house apart, then Patrick preached to the bondmaid, and they spent the whole night in prayer. On the next morning Patrick beheld the white scar on the bondmaid’s face, and he asked of her the cause of the scar. Said the bondmaid, ‘when I was in Nemtur in Britain, I fell, and my head struck against a stone, so that death was near me. When my brother Succet beheld the wound, he made the sign of Christ’s cross over it, so that I was well at once.’ Patrick said this—‘I myself am thy brother, and I am he that healed thee.’ They then gave thanks to God, and go into the wilderness.

Now when Patrick was in the wilderness, he heard the voice of the angel, saying to him, ‘Ready is the ship wherein thou mayest fare to Italy to learn the scriptures.’ Said Patrick, ‘I have not the price (of my ransom) in gold for my lord, and without that he will not allow me (to leave him).’ The angel said to him, ‘Mind thou the herd to-day, and thou wilt see a boar uprooting the earth, and he will bring a mass of gold thereout, and give thou that gold to thy lord for thy head, and fare forth from this land to learn wisdom and piety.’ He watched the boar and found the mass of gold, and gave it for his head to his lord, who consented to let him go, for he was glad at the gold.

Patrick then went on (his) way, and found a ship with her crew of heathen. And he had welcome of them, and they took him
with them oversea. His master Míliucc was sorry for letting him leave. He went after him; and overtook him not, and Míliucc loved not the gold thereafter.

Then Patrick on his road was captured in a foray, and he was with them (the reavers) the time of two months. Patrick made prayer, and God delivered him, so that he came safe to his parents. His parents