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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

As might be expected, tidings of the death of St. Patrick at Saul were heard throughout all Ireland with the deepest grief, and his obsequies were celebrated at his own little church of Saul with great solemnity. The narrative, too, is very touching, for it tells us in its own simple way how heaven and earth kept watch around his bier, and joy and sorrow struggled for the mastery.

St. Patrick’s body was kept in the little church of Saul unburied for twelve days. No doubt, this long delay was arranged in order to give time to bishops and chiefs from all parts of Ireland to be present in person, or send representatives to be present, at the funeral of the spiritual chief and father of all the tribes of Erin. And we are told that for these twelve nights, during which the elders of Erin were watching around the bier of their great Apostle, ‘there was no night in Magh Inis, but an angelic radiance lit up the plain,’ We are also told that ‘Ireland’s elders heard the singing of angelic choirs, and that a great host of heaven’s angels came to wake his body on the night of his death.’ A similar statement is made by Muirchu in the Book of Armagh. ‘On the first night of his obsequies,’ he says, ‘the angels themselves kept watch over the Saint’s body and chaunted the usual psalms, the human watchers having all fallen asleep.’ But on the other nights men kept watch around the body, praying and singing psalms. Moreover, when the choir of angels went to heaven they left behind them in the chamber of death a sweet fragrance, as it were, of honey and wine, so that the word of the patriarch was fulfilled: ‘Behold the smell of my son is as the smell of a plentiful field which the Lord hath blessed.’

The idea of a heavenly radiance lighting up Magh Inis might come from the great number of lights that burned round the bier both day and night; and no doubt the great crowd of strangers who encamped around the little church would also have their own lights, which would be seen far and wide over the plain; for Saul is on high ground, and the lights within and around the little church would be seen from all parts far over the plain. Yet surely it would not be strange if a radiance from heaven shone round that little church which contained the body of one who had done so much for God and for Ireland. And if Victor was in the habit of visiting Patrick so often during life, we should naturally expect him to come with a heavenly choir to chant the psalms of the Church over his blessed body. But it was only on the first night, before strangers had yet arrived, and the monks of the little monastery, worn out with their own watchings, had fallen asleep; then the angels took their place, and sang the strains of heaven around the holy bier where Patrick lay, wrapped up in the shroud that holy Brigid had wrought for him with her own hands. The history of the saints of Erin gives us glimpses of many a beautiful death, precious in the sight of the Lord; but it affords no holier, or more touching sight than this—that bier bearing Patrick’s blessed body in the little church of Saul, where he said his first Mass in the North; the shroud which the blessed Brigid wove for that poor body, spent with sixty years of missionary toil; the monks of Patrick’s family chanting with streaming eyes the psalms of requiem for the soul of him whom they loved so well; the listening angels taking their places in the choir, as the monks fell asleep from their long vigils; the priests and prelates crowding at day’s dawn from all parts to the obsequies of their spiritual father; the vast plain filled with the lights at night, and their voices rising all the day in Mass and psalms for the dead—such a scene Ireland had never seen before, and surely never will see again.






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