The Patron Saint of Ireland, St Patrick is a rather mythical saint. He created all manner of miracles over on the Emerald Isle and his teachings led him all over the Western Europe to spread the word of Christianity in the 4th Century. Among his many endeavours, he cleared Ireland of all its snakes and brought people back form the verge of death. Now he is revered as Patron Saint of Ireland, and a days festival of sorts is celebrated every year globally, by many on March 17th his day. But was saint Patrick Irish though? and who was the real St Patrick?
On the west coast of Anglesey lies a small town called Llanbadrig. The small little parish has a rather special church and sits among a small sandy bay, nestled between two rocky headlands. Just offshore is Ynys Padrig, an island around 1km offshore as the crow flies. A channel that separates the island from the mainland and there is a strong tidal race which occupies the bay. Llanbadrig church sits on a lush green pasture on the side of a hill, surrounded by a grave yard, and accessed by a large stone arch way.
The place name is Welsh, but can be simplified quite easily to Llan-bardig (Place or Parish of Patrick). The word Badrig, is a welsh mutation of the word Padrig. Padrig is the meaning of the word Patrick in Welsh. So the Parish of Patrick, is what Llanbadrig means and this little sleepy hollow and church has existed here since the 4th Century, when St Patrick founded it here after being marooned after a storm.
So what has this got to with a “Welsh Saint Patrick” I hear you ask?, well the question is out there as to his nationality. For many centuries we have believed that because much of his teaching where done over in Ireland, the he came from there, but it seems like there is way more to the story. His connection to Ireland was because he was capered as a slave in south wales along with his notable parents and shipped there to work as a shepherd. If you read on below you will find he escaped Ireland and left for Gaul where he trained to be a priest for fifteen years. He then returned to Ireland to spread his gospel in his later years. He then later in life spent much time in north Wales on pilgrimages, founding churches and spreading the word of Christianity.
On of a beautiful headland on the western coast of Anglesey lies the town called Llanbadrig. Just offshore lies a small island called Ynys Badrig, which translated means (Island of Patrick). An open windswept island thats at the mercy of the Celtic sea, and howling welsh storms. The islands name in English is “middle mouse” and these days there is a “mouse” or “cardinal marker” thats left for sailors navigators to see there is a dry reef there. It was here that in the 4 century Saint Patrick, was shipwrecked on this island in a great storm. Luckily, disaster was averted no one drowned, they made their way to the nearest shoreline, which was the near by area of Llanbadrig.
The Saint made it to the shoreline and too refuge for the raging storms that had run them aground and fatefully delivered them back onshore again. The spot in which they landed had good access to fresh drinking water, in the form of a Holywell at the bottom of a cliff. To give thanks for his survival from the experience, he founded a church here in 440AD making it one of the oldest churches in Wales. Apparently a wooden church was originally erected but this was replaced a thousand years later in the 14th century and again in the 16th century.
Various restorations occurred through the centuries that followed but one notable one that was made was in 1884 made by donations from Henry Stanley, the 3rd Baron of Alderley, who was the owner of the large Penrhos estate on Holy Island. He commissioned a stainless window, with simple geometric patterns influenced by islamic designs. He changed his faith mid life to Islam and became Muslim and become the first Muslim Lord in the house of Lords.
The beautiful stained glass window at Llanbadrig church. Image by Cemaes.wales
The church has seem some famous film debuts on TV in the movie ” Half – light” featuring Demi more. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was also a visitor to this site and pronounced this site “the most peaceful spot on earth”.
I found a rather wonderful except on St Patrickwhilst learning for this blog which gives gives a well rounded understanding of his life and travels. It was written by the website Historic, you can read the full blog here.
“Patrick (Patricius or Padrig) was born around 386 AD to wealthy parents. Patrick’s birthplace is in fact debatable, with many believing that he was born in the still Welsh-speaking Severn estuary, or at St. Davids in Pembrokeshire, the tiny city of St Davids sitting directly on the seagoing missionary and trade routes to and from Ireland. His birth name was Maewyn Succat.
Not much is known about his early life, but it is believed he was captured and sold into slavery with “many thousands of people” by a group of Irish marauders that raided his family estate.
Patrick was a slave for six long years, during which time he lived and worked an isolated existence as a shepherd. He finally managed to escape his captors, and according to his writings, a voice spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland. To this end, it is said that Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where he was held, to the Irish coast.
After his escape, Patrick apparently experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream telling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Shortly after this Patrick travelled to Gaul, were he studied religious instruction under Germanus, bishop of Auxerre. His course of study lasted for more than fifteen years and culminated with his ordination as a priest.
He eventually returned to Ireland to join other early missionaries, probably settling in Armagh, intent on converting the native pagans to Christianity. His seventh century biographers enthusiastically claim that he converted all of Ireland to Christianity.
In truth it does appear that Patrick was very successful at winning converts. Familiar with the Irish language and culture, he adapted traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity rather than attempting to eradicate native beliefs. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honouring their gods with fire, he also superimposed a sun, a powerful native symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross.
Upsetting local Celtic Druids it is said that Patrick was imprisoned on several occasions, but he managed to escape each time. He travelled extensively throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country, setting up the schools and churches that would aid him in his conversion of the Irish to Christianity.
St Patrick’s mission in Ireland lasted approximately thirty years, after which time he retired to County Down. It is said that he died on March 17th in AD 461, and since then, the date has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day.
A rich tradition of oral legend and myth surrounds St. Patrick, most of which has undoubtedly been exaggerated over the centuries – spinning exciting tales as a means to remember history has always been a part of Irish culture.
Some of these legends recall how Patrick raised people from the dead, others that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. The latter would indeed have been a miracle, as snakes have never been present on the island of Ireland. Some claim however, the snakes to be analogous with the native pagans.
Another Irish tale which may also have an element of truth about it tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He apparently used it to show how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing the shamrock on his feast day, and shamrock green remains the essential colour for today’s festivities and celebrations.”
(Article quotation by www.historic-uk.com)
So its an interesting to think that one of the most celebrated patrons in the world is potentially of Welsh blood and origin. As with many of the Saints I find to write about especially Welsh saints there is a common link to Welsh Royalty and the true blood lines of Wales.
As I write this today (March 17th), it is in fact Saint Patricks Day, and regardless of his birth origin we hope you all have an amazing day in what ever part of the world you are in! Cheers (Go Grab a Guinness if your not on lockdown!)
St Patricks day celebrations :
Like most of the Welsh History, it seems to have been diluted and a little deleted because of our recent past, but legend has a way of living on in the hearts, minds and stories of men. I think its our work to begin unravelling some of the truths behind some of the Welsh legends. More to follow.
Well I hope we can inspire you to learn more about our precious welsh history and culture, its some of the most rich and diverse in the world.
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Tan Y Tro Nesaf / Until the next time,
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