SAN JOSÉ, Calif., March 17, 2018: It may be extremely hard for people celebrating St. Patrick Day to acknowledge the saint at the heart of St. Patrick’s Day. It may be even harder to digest that Saint Patrick was a slave in Ireland, not native born. For six years, he was the property of an Irish Druid Chieftain. Perhaps many who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day could care less about St. Patrick. Just pass them the Guinness and get on with the party, which leaves little thought to the man who is being honored by all things green.
St. Patrick – Kidnapped as a child, plunged into slavery
The truth is that while frivolity is the main focus of Saint Patrick’s Day today, this misses the history of a boy who was kidnapped and plunged into the abyss of slavery. A boy who grew into a young man willing to challenge death to escape to freedom, only to return to the land of his slave masters with the consciousness of Christianity. A boy who grew into a young man willing to challenge death to escape to freedom.
He chose to return to the land of his slave masters with the consciousness of Christianity.
Given the current popular misperceptions about slavery in the United States, St. Patrick’s real story could serve as an inspiration to millions.
St. Patrick’s escape from slavery lost in the cobwebs of history.
One mistaken perception about St. Patrick is that March 17 is a celebration of his birthday. Actually, it is not. No one knows the true date when Patrick was born. But March 17 is the known date when, much later as an old man, he died. Speculation as to the year of his birth leads to the year 387 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (r.379 to 395).
Theodosius, after his own conversion, converted the entire Empire to Christianity in 380 AD.
The truth is that St. Patrick was not born in Ireland. He was taken from Britain to Ireland as a captive and enslaved by Irish slave traders sometime before 400 AD. His parents were both Roman citizens. Their baby was born a Roman citizen on the outermost frontier of the Roman Empire. His parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were numbered among the Roman nobility. The couple gave their child the appropriate Roman name of “Patricius,” which means “noble of the patrician class.”
The Patrician class refers to the Roman upper class that had ruled over the Empire since the days of the early Republic. As Romans ruling over foreign lands, they were naturally wealthy. Calpurnius held the position of a tax collector for the Roman government, and they owned slaves on their estate.
Patrick enslaved in Ireland as a teen
The privileged life Patricius was accustomed to was turned upside down when he was just a teen of 15 or 16 years. His life was changed forever one ominous day when Celtic raiders stormed the family villa. While his parents were in the nearby village, the raiders captured the young man along with other potential slaves.
Put in irons, the captives were taken across the Irish Sea to Ireland. Young Patricius was sold as a slave to a Druid Chieftain known as Milchu who forced him to tend his flocks of sheep.
Looking back upon his six-year period of slavery, Saint Patrick later explained that he accepted his enslavement because he had committed a serious sin and had broken religious laws (possibly one of the Ten Commandments). The Christian foundation Patricius had received in his childhood began to slowly make more sense to him.
Patrick also related in his writings that his grandfather, Potitus, was a Catholic priest; so, grandfather must have maintained some persuasion over the family in the matter of faith.
As a result of his sins, Patricius nurtured no desire to escape.
During his six years of slavery, while out tending sheep, Patricus spent much time in prayer, repairing and redeveloping his relationship with God. He declared in his “Confession” that he prayed every day, several times a day.
“… and the faith grew in me, and the spirit was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same, so that whilst in the woods and on the mountain, even before the dawn, I was roused to prayer…”
As Patricius grew into a young man, he continued to pray. He later testified that he began to develop a genuine relationship with God, a relationship that would ultimately change his life forever. This relationship transformed his life, and led him on a further journey to sainthood.
Patricus hears the voice of God
Eventually, Patricus confessed he heard God’s voice telling him that he would soon be leaving Ireland for home. When he first heard the voice, he dismissed it, as it was difficult to believe God had actually spoken to him. However, when Patricius heard the voice again, he moved past his resistance later writing that the voice was quite clear: “Behold, your ship is ready.”
The voice also instructed him that he would have to walk across Ireland to find the ship.
After six long years as a captive, Patricius made his escape, making his way across the Emerald Isle’s wilderness and the marshes to his freedom. Patrick overcame the fear that fugitive slaves when caught in Ireland, were taken to the local king, punished, and returned to their masters who punished them again.
Patricius also had to also overcome his fears of verbally seeking help because if he spoke, and his British accent was discerned, he could be exposed as a run-away.
He conquered his fears as he later explained because he had received permission from God to escape from his enslavement.
Patrick’s long journey home
Patrick made a new start. After the 200-mile trek, he found passage with the crew of what may have been a pirate ship. Young Patrick was able to sail away from his emerald prison and eventually made it back to his home.
But, the six years as a slave had changed him forever.
Saint Patrick’s testimony later in his life reveals how much during this time he transformed:
“God used the time to shape and mold me into something better. He made me into what I am now – someone very different from what I once was, someone who can care about others and work to help them. Before I was a slave, I didn’t even care about myself.”
St. Patrick’s return to Ireland
When Patrick went back to Ireland as a Bishop of the Church, he had overcome many of his fears. He had no fear of the Druids’ religious beliefs. He also did not fear the barbaric methods of intimidation toward other religions practiced by the Druid priests and chieftains who controlled the country.
Amazingly, during his time as a slave he had fallen in love with God in the Emerald Isle, and after returning home, he discovered he had fallen in love with the land and the Irish people.
It was this love that conquered all his fears and helped the people of Ireland fall in love with God and St. Patrick, too.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!