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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Now, when the obsequies were over, and the last psalm was chanted, and the last Mass was said, the bishops and clergy were in sore distress to devise means to bury their beloved father in peace. They knew that it was his own wish to be buried at Saul, or near it, for so God’s Angel had directed. It was his first, and, in some respects, his best-beloved church. It was said, too, that he had promised Dichu and his sons that as they gave him a home and a church when he first came amongst them, homeless and weary of the sea, he would lay his bones amongst them for ever. The high-spirited Ultonians of Magh Inis loved their dead father with a deep and tender love, and rather than see his holy body taken away from them they were ready to shed the last drop of their blood.

On the other hand, the men of Orior, and the fierce warriors of O’Neilland, who dwelt around Armagh, when they heard of the Saint’s death, said:—‘He is ours, our bishop and our father; he chose Macha’s Hill to be his seat for ever; there he ruled in life, and there he must rest in death.’ So the warlike sons of Colla and the Hy Neill gathered together all their warriors, and came to Lecale, determined at any cost to carry back with them the body of their beloved Bishop to Armagh. They encamped, it would seem, on the northern shore of the estuary, at the ford of Quoile, not venturing to disturb the obsequies, but waiting until the funeral would be over to carry off the blessed body of the Saint.

Now, it would appear that the prelates and chiefs of Lecale did a wise thing. They waited quietly until the rushing tide of Strangford Lough had filled up the estuary at Quoile Ford with its swelling waters, which the men of Armagh could not cross. Then, instead of burying the Saint in the little churchyard at Saul, which would be open to an attack from the men of the North, they hurriedly placed the body on its bier, and, bearing it to Downpatrick, buried it in a deep grave on the hill close to the impregnable fort of the sons of Trichem, which, as it was almost surrounded by water, was practically unassailable. There they buried Patrick in the very stronghold of Dun-leth-glaisse, which afterwards, in honour of the Saint, changed its name, and has been called Downpatrick ever since.

We have here given what appears to us to be the natural and true account of the burial of St. Patrick, and is also in accordance with the express statements of the ancient authorities, which we may now examine a little more at length.

It is only in recent times that any writer has ventured to set aside the ancient tradition, which always proclaimed that St. Patrick was buried in Downpatrick. The desire to start something new is characteristic of our age; some apparently plausible reasons were assigned for saying that Patrick was really buried in Armagh; while others seemed to show that his grave was to be sought in the little churchyard of Saul, two miles east of Downpatrick. He certainly died there; but we think it can be clearly shown that he was not buried there.

Muirchu’s testimony is express on the point; and moreover it is contained in the Book of Armagh itself. He says that before his death the Angel, foreknowing, doubtless, the danger of strife, had said to Patrick, “Let two wild oxen be chosen (to carry the bier); let them go wherever they will, where they shall stop a church shall be built in honour of thy poor body.” This was done according to the counsel of the Angel. The wild steers were brought to Saul, all the way from Clogher, in Tyrone, and when they were yoked to the bier ‘they went out,’ says Muirchu, ‘from Saul under God’s guidance to Dun-leth-glaisse, where Patrick was buried.’

Then the Angel added: “Lest the relics of your body be taken from the grave let a cubit of earth rest over the body.” The cubit here means a man’s cubit, that is the height (or depth) which a man standing up can reach with his arm, that is, between seven and eight feet, so that Patrick was buried to that depth in the soil; and it was done secretly in order that no man might know where he rested, except a trusted few, for otherwise the men of Oriel might come at night and try to bear off the body.

At a later date, when they were building the church of Downpatrick in honour of the Saint, the workmen in making their excavations happened to come near the grave, whereupon fire burst forth, and they touched no more that sacred spot.

Then Muirchu refers to the imminent danger of a bloody strife at Drumbo, between the Hy Neill and men of Orior on one part and the Ultonians on the other, for the body of Patrick; but, through the mercy of God, he says, the swelling waves rushed up the estuary, separating the combatants, and rendering it impossible for either party to cross the ford.

Meanwhile the clergy had buried Patrick at Dun, but still the Hy Neill, when the flood subsided, resolved to cross the ford, and, if possible, bear off the body. Then, lo! there appeared before them two oxen, drawing what seemed to be a bier with the body of the Saint, whereupon the multitude, thinking they had secured their treasure, joyfully followed the wain as far as Cabcenne, where the supposed body disappeared from their eyes. Muirchu calls it a ‘felix seductio,’ and it was, probably, a ruse designed by the clergy to draw off the men of Orior and Armagh; if it were not a story devised at a later period to soothe the wounded vanity of the warriors of the Hy Neill.

It has been objected to this statement of Muirchu that Tirechan says of Patrick that he was like Moses in this also; that ‘where his bones are no one knows.’ From what we have said that statement appears to be quite true. The exact spot where Patrick was buried was kept carefully concealed; and after a time when those who had buried him had died, no one knew exactly where his bones rested, until, it is said, the place was divinely revealed to Columcille. That this is the real meaning of Tirechan is obvious from what he adds immediately, that ‘Columcille showed the sepulchre of Patrick, confirming where he is (according to tradition) namely, in Saul of Patrick—that is, in the church quite close to the sea, where the gathering of the relics is—that is, of the bones of Columcille from Britain,—and the gathering of all the saints of Erin on the day of judgment.’

The sepulchre was near Saul then, yet not in the church of Saul, but in the church very near the sea, that is, the church of Downpatrick, which was surrounded by the sea at high water, whereas the church of Saul was about a mile from the sea at its nearest point.






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