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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

It was, we are told, the Angel Victor that directed Patrick to Lerins to the barefooted hermits to learn the lessons of the desert; and it was the Angel Victor who now also, after eight years in the desert, directed him to go to the ‘island monks between the mountain and the sea.’ The expression is, as we have said, a peculiar one. It was not an island in the sea like Lerins, but between the mountains and the sea. This description applies exactly to what was then known as the Island of Arles, but is now called the Isle of the Camargue, or the Camargue simply. It is an island between the Alps on the northeast, and the sea on the south, formed by the two branches of the Rhone—the Great and the Little Rhone—which bifurcates at Arles, and encloses the island between its two arms and the sea. In ancient times this island was not nearly as large as it is now, for the Rhone is daily gaining on the sea, and filling up its own shallow estuaries with the débris taken down from the mountains. In the time of Julius Cæsar Arles was a seaport in immediate connection with the sea, but now it is many miles inland, and the island has grown in proportion. There is no doubt that it was always called in ancient times, as it is in the Lives of St. Patrick, the Insula Aralatensis. In our opinion the other name, Insula Tamarensis, is a mistake of the copyist for the Insula Camarensis, that is the Island of the Camargue, and so there can be no doubt of the identity of these two places mentioned in the Lives of our National Apostle.

Now, we know for certain that Constantine connected the ‘Island of Arles’ with the city by a great bridge of stone, and that a new suburb was built within the island. We know also that a great monastery was founded some time during the fifth century in the island, for we have an express reference to it in the Life of Cæsarius of Arles, who was himself a monk of Lerins, from which he was taken to preside over the island monastery of Arles. We do not know when it was founded, but it seems highly probable that it was a daughter of Lerins, and was founded by a colony of monks from that holy island, which was always closely connected with Arles. Is it a rash conjecture to suppose that Patrick was one of the monks of Lerins, who were sent there shortly after its foundation, and whilst the island community was still young?

Then there is a story told of a great beast which dwelt near the well where the monks got their water, and Patrick was required to go like the rest in his turn for the water, otherwise he could not stay amongst them. So he went, but he prayed to God to banish the fierce creature, and it appeared no more. There are many fierce beasts in the Camargue still, for a great part of the island is uninhabited, and even the bulls and horses that graze there become in course of time very wild. For the Rhone enters the sea through a regular network of lagunes, marshes, and mud-banks, which are almost impassable, and in their dark abysses afford shelter to many amphibious creatures who do not readily give themselves up for inspection. If the estuary of the Rhone was somewhat similar in ancient times, it would be no way wonderful if some strange beasts dwelt in the deep pools of its trackless marshes.

It is highly probable that it was in this insular monastery of Arles that Patrick first met the great St. Germanus of Auxerre. For Arles was then the capital of Gaul; it was the residence of the Prefect of all the Gauls, as well as of Spain and Britain. The chief schools of Gaul were in that city and the highest court in the wide Praetorian Province, so that it was usually crowded with professors, lawyers, and officials of every kind. Before he was ‘dux’ or governor of his native province Germanus had been a brilliant lawyer, and practised, as we know, with signal success both at Rome and at Arles. Even after he became governor of his own province, his visits to the imperial city of Gaul must have been frequent and prolonged. In this way he might naturally be expected to visit the island monastery, and become acquainted with its monks. Although he became a Bishop, like St. Ambrose, per saltum, still he was certainly some time a priest, and naturally would retire to some monastery to prepare himself for the new spiritual duties imposed upon him. It would appear, therefore, that even before he became Bishop, in 418, Germanus had opportunities of meeting our St. Patrick at Arles, and giving the British monk advice in the prosecution of his spiritual studies. It was a very natural way of making an acquaintance, which afterwards ripened into friendship so fruitful of spiritual blessings for our own country. Then, to reside near Arles at this time was an education in itself. It was a very beautiful city. Constantine the Great had at one time resolved to make it the capital of his entire empire, East and West, and although he afterwards gave that honour to Byzantium he did much for Arles. He built a royal palace on the left bank of the Rhine, and enriched the city with many noble buildings. The amphitheatre still remains standing, and although much smaller than the Coliseum, it is in far more perfect preservation. The ruins of the theatre also remain to attest the ancient splendour of the city. It was called Roma Gallula, the Gallic Rome, a miniature of the imperial city in all things, just as we see it in the fragments of its skeleton to-day. It was, therefore, only natural for Patrick to seek the great monastery of this Gallic Rome, and it was there his good fortune to find the wisest guide and best friend of his life—the soldier, statesman, bishop, and saint, all combined in the nobly born and highly accomplished Bishop of Auxerre.






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