St. Patrick of the Ireland

Everyone knows about St. Patrick -the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated fierce druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish. It's a great story, but none of it is true. The real story - slavery, escape, murder, and the struggles of faith against all odds - is much better.


New York Times:
"It seems that I've become something of a celebrity in recent years," the Romano-British churchman Patricius observed near the end of his long career, perhaps foreseeing the extravagant emerald mantle that would be wrapped about him by the cult of St. Patrick. In this lively and lucid biography, Philip Freeman draws on the saint's surviving letters, including the eloquent "Confession," to glean personal details of Patrick's life and fit them into what is known of early Irish history. "Driving the snakes out of Ireland, entering contests to the death with pagan Druids, using the shamrock as an aid to explaining the Trinity - all these are pious fictions created centuries later by well-meaning monks," Freeman writes. "The true story of Patrick is far more compelling than the medieval legends." Patrick was neither Ireland's first Christian nor the country's first bishop. Patrick apologized for his lack of learning, for writing Latin "as if it were a foreign language," but he enriched his faith by bringing to it a race of stern confessors and exuberant artists.

- Allen D. Boyer

Wall Street Journal:
"Mr. Freeman's book succeeds where others have failed by giving us a wholly human portrait of Patrick the boy, the slave and the missionary."

- Michael Judge

From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review
Born to an aristocratic British family in the fifth century, Patrick was kidnapped by slave raiders at age 15 and sold to an Irish farmer. After six years of tending sheep he escaped, walked 200 miles to a port city he had seen in a dream, and sailed for home. Years later, as a priest or bishop, he returned to Ireland. Bribing petty kings for safe passage through their rural domains, he preached, baptized and established churches in his beloved adopted land. This information about the saint's life is known from two lengthy letters he wrote late in life, both included in a lively translation by Freeman, a classics professor and author of three previous books about the Celtic world. Dismissing many familiar tales as myths, he relies on archeological discoveries as well as Greek and Roman writers to create a colorful picture of Ireland at the end of the Roman Empire: its kings and headhunting warriors, gods and human sacrifices, belief in the Otherworld. "I am a stranger and an exile living among barbarians and pagans, because God cares for them," Patrick wrote. Besides, time was running out: As Freeman observes, "The gospel had been preached throughout the world and was even then, by [Patrick's] own efforts, being spread to the most distant land of all. There was simply no reason for God's judgment to be delayed once the Irish had heard the good news." In the storytelling tradition of popular historian Thomas Cahill, this small book offers a fascinating and believable introduction to Ireland's patron saint.

On Point with Tom Ashbrook

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