The World of Saint Patrick

Publication date: September 1, 2014

The legend of Saint Patrick is irresistibly captivating-he drove the snakes out of Ireland, battled the druids, and used the three-leaf Shamrock to convert the pagan Irish to belief in the Christian Trinity. Yet, as so often happens, these stories are mere myths that fold under closer scrutiny. Snakes never plagued the Irish countryside, and the Emerald Isle’s most beloved saint wasn’t even Irish but a Briton of the Roman nobility. Fortunately, the truth is even more fascinating.

In The World of Saint Patrick, classical scholar Philip Freeman offers the definitive account of Saint Patrick’s life through new and vibrant translations of the greatest works of early Christian Ireland. This story of great violence, brutality, and even greater faith begins with two letters Patrick wrote describing his kidnapping by pirates at age sixteen and subsequent slavery. Although his grandfather was a priest and his father a deacon, at the time of his kidnapping Patrick had rejected his childhood faith in favor of atheism. Yet in this deeply moving narrative, Patrick recounts how he regained his faith during his captivity, and how the voice of God guided him both in his escape from bondage and in his eventual return to Ireland as a missionary to the very people who had enslaved him.

The World of Saint Patrick delves into colorful tales of Patrick’s struggles with pagan kings, soaring hymns of praise, and a prayer of protection against forces of evil such as “the magic of women, blacksmiths, and druids.” Freeman also examines the life of Saint Brigid, Ireland’s first female saint, and the legendary voyage of Saint Brendan and his monks across the western ocean.

Both general readers with an interest in Ireland’s saints and scholars studying religion or medieval history will be unable to put down this captivating tale of Ireland’s greatest saint and the remarkable times in which he lived.


Washington Independent Review of Books:

“This is the first time these texts have been readily available to the general public in excellent translations. We can certainly be grateful for this access to primary sources, particularly when popular romanticized presentations of ‘Celtic Spirituality’ often owe more to modern fantasy than authentic history.”

The World of Saint Patrick is an answer to the prayers of university professors who teach courses on early medieval European history, the history of Christianity, or the early history of Britain and Ireland. In his scholarly works as well as in his fiction, Freeman has introduced students and other educated readers to the exotic culture of ancient Ireland and–more important–has made that distant world compelling and enticing. This volume of colloquial translations brings Patrick’s own words to life again, along with other texts crucial to understanding the spread of Christianity to barbarian territories. Anyone interested in that mysterious man now known as Saint Patrick must read this book. —Lisa Bitel, Professor of History and Religion, University of Southern California

“Although many millions celebrate St. Patrick’s Day each year, few non-specialists know the authentic story of the man himself, the heroic and stubborn figure who laid the foundations for Ireland’s Christian history. Through the superbly translated original sources collected in The World of St. Patrick, Philip Freeman recounts that epoch-making tale. The reality is vastly more inspiring than the legends that have grown up around it!” —Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University

“Freeman’s translations of Patrick’s writings accurately convey the clear voice and passionate conviction of the missionary saint. To have the Lives of Patrick and Brigit along with the Voyage of Saint Brendan accompanying the earlier letters makes this an invaluable collection for students of the early Middle Ages.” —Christopher A. Snyder, Dean and Professor of History, Shackouls Honors College, Mississippi State University

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