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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

‘Patrick,’ we are told, ‘was enraged with his sister, namely, Lupait, for the sin of lust which she committed, so that she became pregnant. When Patrick came into the church from the east—perhaps from Saul—Lupait went to meet him, and she cast herself down on her knees before the chariot in the place where the cross stands in Both Arcall.’ This was probably the termon cross of Armagh on the eastern road, for there was a cross on each road to mark the limit of the Church’s territory in the suburbs of Armagh. “Drive the chariot over her,” says Patrick; ‘and the chariot went over her three times, for each time she would come and place herself in front of it. Wherefore she went to heaven there at the Ferta, and she was afterwards buried by Patrick, and her requiem was sung’—in Armagh, no doubt. ‘Colman, son of Ailill, of the Hy Bressail, was the man who brought this ruin on Lupait at Imdual. Aedan, son of Colman and Lupait, was the saint of Inis Lothair, for Lupait when dying besought Patrick not to take away heaven from Colman and his offspring; and Patrick relenting, it would appear, did not take heaven from them. He only said they would be always weakly. Now, the children of Colman are the Hui Failain and the Hui Duib-Dare.’

This is a very strange passage, and must not be set aside merely because it attributes sin to a sister of Patrick, who is herself described as a saint in our calendars. Some great saints have been great sinners, and the time of this story was a rude age, with a people newly converted from paganism, many of whom, no doubt, from time to time, relapsed, as the Corinthian Christians did, into their old carnal sins. Neither can we reject the story because it sets St. Patrick in what seems to be a cruel and odious light. St. Patrick was a man of God; he was zealous for the observance of God’s law; and when that law was violated, especially by persons of his own kindred, he was capable of doing harsh things, which, no doubt, he would afterwards regret. Neither is it likely that this story was a pure invention, for no Irish writer would be likely to invent such a story, either regarding Patrick or Lupait, and it is very circumstantial in many of the details.

Still, in so far as the story refers to St. Lupait or Lupita, the sister of St. Patrick, it must at once be set aside as intrinsically impossible. For this Lupita was nearly of the same age as St. Patrick himself. She was carried off a captive with him when he was only sixteen years of age. She was sold as a slave and dwelt in Conaille Muirthemne during the years that St. Patrick herded swine in Antrim. Therefore, at the time that Patrick founded Armagh she must have been more than seventy years of age, and hence, even if she were not indeed altogether free from the lusts of the flesh, she was certainly incapable of bearing children. We must, therefore, accept the suggestion of Colgan that either the name Lupait was introduced by the copyist on his own authority, or, what appears to us to be more likely, that there is question not of Lupait, the sister of the Saint, but of a younger Lupait, perhaps a niece or daughter of the first, who came to dwell with the Saint at Armagh. The word, ‘Siur,’ sister, might also mean a relation, and the odious crime might thus be attributed to St. Lupita, sister of St. Patrick, which was really committed by a younger relative.

The circumstantial details given in the Tripartite tell strongly in favour of the substantial authenticity of the story. That a young chief of the blood royal like Colman should succeed in attempting to seduce a young religious in that rude age is by no means improbable. We think, however, the severity with which Patrick treated the erring maiden when she sought his pardon, is greatly exaggerated. He would, doubtless, pass her by unheeded in his anger, but the statement of his driving his chariot over her three times is clearly an exaggeration of later times. The maiden’s heart was broken, that is clear enough; yet like a true woman she besought the Saint to spare her child and her seducer, and the Saint granted the petition, and forebore to inflict on them any heavier doom. By her self-sacrifice she saved them from the punishment of the sin of the parents.






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