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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Almost all the ancient anthorities are unanimous in stating that Patrick had reached the great age of 120 years at the time of his death, but there is some difference of opinion in fixing the exact year.

Tighernach’s Annals, the Annals of Ulster, the Four Masters, the Chronicon Scotorum, and the Lebar Brecc, all agree in assigning the date of Patrick’s death to the year A.D. 493. ‘Patritius the arch-apostle of the Scoti (or Irish) rested on the 16th day of the calends of April (17th March) in the 120th year of his age, and also, the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptise the Scoti.’ Such is the statement in the Annals of Ulster, and it certainly records the opinion of our oldest and best authorities, such as Colgan, Usher, O’Flaherty Ware Todd, and quite a host of other writers. One strong argument in favour of 493 being the exact year is derived from the fact that in that year the 17th of March was a Wednesday, and the ancient authorities all give Wednesday as the day of the Apostle’s death.

Lanigan’s view that the Saint died in A.D. 465 may be dismissed as a novel opinion of his own, unsupported by any authority. The so-called Annals of Innisfallen which he quotes in his favour are notoriously post-dated by many years, and have no weight as an authority in chronology. Lanigan foolishly identified St. Patrick with Sen Patrick, quite a different person, who really died in A.D. 457, on the 24th of August, on which day the Felire of Ængus marks the death of Old Patrick, champion of battles, ‘lovable tutor of our Sage.’

The Bollandists give the date of Patrick’s death as A.D. 460, but as Lanigan observes, it is a mere guess, not based on any authority, and like his own guess may be summarily set aside. Stokes, the editor of the Tripartite, speaks of his death as having ‘probably’ taken place in or about 463, and Professor Bury adopts the same opinion. Stokes describes Patrick as ‘coming to Ireland in 432, when he was sixty years old,’ and later on he says that he spent sixty years in Ireland, partly as a priest and partly as bishop. But there is no evidence that he ever laboured in Ireland as a simple priest; whence we infer that he was sixty when he came to Ireland as bishop, for so he describes himself, and having laboured sixty years, died in 493, in the 120th year of his age.

A recent writer thinks his age was 61 at the time of his death, but his opinion appears to be based on the statement in Tirechan that ‘436 years are reckoned from the Passion of Christ to the death of Patrick’ or, as others have it, 432. He assumes that the Passion of Christ occurred in A.D. 29, and adding that to 432 we get 461, ‘the true year.’ Now no year between 460 and 470 can be the true year of Patrick’s death, if it were only for this one simple reason, that in that case he would set about converting Ireland when he was between eighty and ninety years of age!

We need not concern ourselves about the minor points; the real thing is to explain the entry as we now have it in Tirechan. To understand it we must take it altogether. ‘Now from the Passion of Christ are reckoned to the death of Patrick 436 (or it may be 432 years). Laeghaire reigned, however, either two or five years after the death of Patrick. The whole time of his reign, as we think, was thirty-six years.’ It appears to us that no weight can be attached to this sentence, as it stands, because, either through the fault of the copyists or the ignorance of the original scribe, it cannot be reconciled with itself. For according to the Four Masters and all our authorities, Laeghaire died in 458, not after, therefore, but some years before the death of Patrick, according to the numerals given in the text. Then again the writer does not appear to be certain about his dates, for he says, speaking of the years of the king’s reign, it was 32 or 36, as we think. It was really only 30 years, from 428 to 458. So we cannot accept the text before us here as accurate.

The true explanation seems to be that Tirechan put down the death of the great St. Patrick at the year which he found was assigned, not to his death, but to the death of Sen-Patrick. This will be obvious on closer examination of the dates given by Tirechan himself. His statement that four hundred and thirty-six years intervened between the Passion of Christ and the death of Patrick, which, he adds, occurred either two or five years before the death of Laeghaire, cannot be accepted. But if it is understood of Sen-Patrick’s death it fits in well enough, for he probably died about two years before the death of the High King, although it is now perhaps impossible to fix the exact year. In our opinion, therefore, this entry as to the death of ‘Patrick,’ which Tirechan got either from the Book or the lips of Bishop Ultan, must be understood as having reference to Old Patrick, who died about that time, not to the great Patrick, Bishop of Hiberio, as he calls himself, who died long after.

Again, all the ancient authorities fix 432 as the date of St. Patrick’s advent to Ireland as bishop. All give him sixty years of an apostolate here. Whereas if he died in 461 or 463 or 465 he must have been about ninety years when as bishop he undertook to preach the Gospel throughout Ireland, from Tara by Croaghpatrick to Inishowen—a consequence which cannot be accepted for a moment.

There was an ancient tradition that Patrick was born on a Wednesday, baptised on a Wednesday, and died on a Wednesday. We can take it then as fairly certain that his death took place on Wednesday, the 17th March, 493, for it is expressly stated by many of our most venerable authorities, nor is it at all likely that the feast day of so great a saint would have passed out of public memory. But we have not the same satisfactory evidence about his birth and baptism on a Wednesday, although Usher is inclined to accept the statement as true, and he quotes the ‘Book of Sligo’ to that effect. In the Felire of Ængus, at the 5th of April, it is said that ‘the baptism of noble Patrick was performed in Erin;’ but this seems to refer, as the Scholiast says, to the baptism of Sinell, his first convert in Erin, or perhaps it was designed to commemorate some great baptismal ceremony, such as we know took place at Tara when Erc Mac Dego was baptised on the Royal Hill.






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