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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

THE name of this venerable man has been the cause of much confusion in Patrician hagiology; and in bungling hands has tended to do—what he certainly would not wish to do himself—to diminish the well deserved fame of our great Apostle. Who then was this Sen-Patraic? We can only collect the principal notices regarding him which are to be found in our Annals and in the Lives of St. Patrick; and leave our readers to draw their own conclusions.

The earliest and most valuable reference to Sen-Patraic is found in the metrical Calendar of Ængus, under date of August 24:—

‘With the series of the host of Zenonius,

—Tidings of them have been heard—

Old Patrick, champion of battle,

The amiable tutor of our Elder.’

On this the Scholiast in the Lebar Brecc has the following note:—‘Old-Patrick, that is in Glastonbury of the Gael in Saxon-land. Old-Patrick of Ros-Dela in Mag Locha; but it is truer that he is in Glastonbury of the Gael in the south of Saxon-land. For Irishmen formerly used to dwell there in pilgrimage. But his relics are in Old-Patrick’s tomb in Armagh.’

From this we gather that Old-Patrick was at one time a monk of Glastonbury; that he was in some sense a tutor of our great Apostle; that he became bishop of Ros-Dela, now Rosdalla, in Westmeath; and that he was buried at Armagh. But the Book of Leinster gives us a third very important reference, in which it describes Sen-Patraic as:—‘Ostiarius of St. Patrick, and Abbot of Armagh.’ These are the only facts of the life of the saint that can be said to be known with certainty.

As to his death we find it noted at different times in our Annals; and these obituary notices have led to much confusion. The Annals of Ulster, under date of A.D. 457, have the entry ‘quies Senis Patricii ut alii libri dicunt’—marking curiously enough the Synod of Chalcedon (451) as held in the same year. In the Book of Leinster the year is not given, but the entry—Secundinus et Senex Patricius quieverunt—is given after the foundation of Armagh, and before the death of Ailill Molt in 463, whilst the entry—‘Patricius Scottorum episcopus quievit’—is found further on after the battle of Cellosnaid. The Book of Leinster, therefore, clearly distinguishes between the death of Sen-Patraic, and that of the ‘Bishop of the Scots,’ the great St. Patrick, which it fixes at a much later date, without giving the exact year.

In the Annales Cambriae we find the following entry—‘Annus XIII. Sanctus Patricius ad Dominum migratur,’ whilst the birth of St. Brigid is marked in the tenth, and the rest of Benignus in the twenty-fourth year of the same era. This ‘Sanctus Patricius’ was therefore Old-Patrick; but as he was a Welsh Saint, it is only natural that Cambrian Annals should note his death, and, by omitting any reference to his great namesake, try to make him out to be the great saint of Ireland—a thing that has been often attempted since by the Welshmen.

Several lists of St. Patrick’s ‘successors’ are given in our old books, with the length of their episcopacy in Armagh, but to reconcile the dates would be a hopeless task, owing to the errors of transcribers in copying the Roman numbers. But the order of succession is practically identical; and in one of these lists Old-Patrick is given as Bishop-Abbot after Sechnall and before Benignus. As Sechnall or Secundinus was the first bishop who ‘went under the sod’ in Ireland, this list clearly shows that the earlier prelates noticed therein as ‘successors’ of St. Patrick in Armagh were really co-adjutor Bishops whom, after the foundation of Armagh, St. Patrick left in the primatial city to rule his church and his abbey during his own prolonged missionary journeys. In the list in Book of Leinster the incumbency of Sechnall is given as thirteen years, that of Old-Patrick as two, and that of Benignus as two, of Jarlath fourteen, and of Cormac twelve, whilst St. Patrick himself gets credit for presiding for fifty-eight years—that is from his coming to Ireland to his death—thus clearly showing that his life in Ireland was contemporaneous with the lives of his five immediate ‘successors,’ who were merely his co-adjutors in succession in Armagh.

The point we want to insist on is, that the very catalogue in the Book of Leinster which represents these saints as comarbada of the great St. Patrick shows that he outlived them all except St. Cormac.

The list in the Lebar Brecc begins by stating that Patrick rested in the hundred and twentieth year of his age; and then amongst his comarbs it puts Sechnall first and Benignus second, omitting all reference to the abbacy of Sen-Patraic. The chronological tract in the Lebar Brecc states that Patrick completed his victorious course in the nineteenth year of Cormac, Patrick’s comarb or ‘successor.’ The exact year given is perhaps not accurate, but it serves to explain what we find elsewhere, after the statement that Patrick, Bishop of the Scots rested—the next entry:—‘Cormac, first abbot of Armagh.’ He was therefore the sixth Bishop of Armagh, but at the same time the first Abbot-Bishop after St. Patrick having independent jurisdicton.

From these entries, therefore, we get a glimpse of the real history of Sen-Patraic, and we can also infer very clearly the share he had in the conversion of Ireland. He was a Welshman by birth, and, if not an uncle, was certainly an older man than his namesake, the great Apostle of Ireland. He spent some time in the monastery of Glastonbury, which then and long afterwards was much frequented by Irish saints and scholars, so that it came to be called Glastonbury of the Gael. It is clear that, if not a near relation of our Apostle, he made his acquaintance most probably during the time that St. Patrick was in Wales with St. Germanus in 429. There grew up a close intimacy between the older and the younger saint, so that the former came to be called ‘the beloved tutor of our Elder.’ It was only natural, therefore, that when St. Patrick came to Ireland in 432, bringing with him associates for the great task before him in Ireland, the older Patrick should volunteer to be one of the companions of his beloved dalta, now duly authorised to preach the Gospel to the Irish. Of his subsequent career we know little, except that in the familia or ecclesiastical household of St. Patrick he occupied the responsible office of ostiarius or sacristan to the Saint, that he was subsequently made by St. Patrick Bishop of Ros-Dela in the parish of Durrow, in the County Westmeath, and that after the death of Sechnall, who had for many years been assistant bishop to Saint Patrick, the latter appointed the venerable old man to take the place of Sechnall in Armagh as Bishop-Abbot and co-adjutor to himself. But he held the office only a very short time, not more than two years. Shortly after Armagh was founded as the primatial see, and there of course he was buried by St. Patrick, and there his relics were for ages held in veneration by the faithful Christians of the Royal City on Macha’s Height. How greatly the old man loved his pupil St. Patrick, and how tenderly he was attached to him, is shown by the old story which tells that after death the soul of Old-Patrick did not ascend to heaven, but waited for the death of his beloved dalta, and then both ascended in joy and glory to their thrones in heaven. This is a clear, consecutive story, proved to be true by the brief statements in our annals; and it shows also that Old-Patrick had no doubt a very meritorious but, at the same time, only a very subordinate part in the great work of the conversion of Ireland.

If further proof were needed, that it is to St. Patrick, and to him alone, the great work of the conversion of Ireland must, as a whole, be ascribed, we can find it in the Confession of the Saint, and in the express testimony of all our ancient authorities without exception. To this view of the case, however, we can at present make only very brief reference.






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