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The Life And Writings Of Saint Patrick -Saint Patrick

Some knowledge of this mission of Palladius is essential to understand the subsequent mission of St. Patrick.

The entry of Prosper in his Chronicle, under date of A.D. 431, is brief but significant:—

“Palladius is consecrated (this year) by Pope Celestine, and sent as their first bishop to the Scots believing in Christ.”

The present tense marks the contemporary Chronicler, and the entry also shows that in Rome they knew there were some Christians in Ireland, although not yet forming an organised Church. Of course, then, and long after, the term ‘Scots’ meant Irish, or rather the Gaels of Ireland. The Book of Armagh calls Palladius Archdeacon of Pope Celestine, and so no doubt he was in a certain sense.

At least whilst in Rome he was under the immediate jurisdiction of the Pope, and the epithet, ‘Archdeacon,’ like ‘noble priest’ in Irish, merely means that he occupied an eminent position in his office. The more accurate Prosper simply calls him Deacon Palladius; but his stay in Rome might easily procure him the title of Archdeacon of Pope Celestine.

Here the Irish Annalists give us further information, of which the Chronicler of Aquitaine knew nothing. The substance of their narrative may be summed up as follows: Palladius, with twelve companions, of whom two are named, Sylvester and Solinus, landed at Inver Dea, in the territory of the Hy Garrchon. This was the district extending northwards from Wicklow town to Bray Head; and, as we shall see later on, Inver Dea was certainly the estuary of the Vartry River, near the town of Wicklow—‘the most commodious and celebrated port of that district’ at the time. The ruler of this territory was Nathi, son of that Garrchu who gave his name to the tribe and tribe-land; and we know also that this Nathi was married to the daughter of that stubborn old pagan, King Laeghaire, who then reigned at Tara.

Nathi was hostile to the preaching of the Gospel in his territory. Still he did not attack the newcomers with fire and sword; and they succeeded in founding three churches, whose names are given in the old books—Teach na Roman, i.e., the House of the Romans; Cell-fine, the Church of the Relics; and Domnach Arda, which would simply mean the Church of the Height. Special reference is made to the relics, which are described as books that Palladius got from Celestine, and also a box containing relics of the Blessed Peter and Paul and of other saints, and the tablets on which Palladius used to write, and which are called in Irish from his name Pall-ere, or Pallad-ere, the burden of Palladius.

As might be expected, we are told that all these Palladian relics of the Church of Cell-fine were held in great veneration. The third church, called Domnach Arda (or Ardec) is particularly noteworthy as the place where the two holy companions of Palladius, Sylvester and Solinus, died and are buried; it is added they are held in great veneration there.

That is the whole record of the work of Palladius in Ireland—the founding-of three churches in the Co. Wicklow—for, seeing that he made little or no progress, Palladius sailed away to Britain, and died there early next year, if not the same year, that is 431.

A competent local authority, the late Father Shearman, identifies Teach na Roman with Tigroney, an old church in the parish of Castle Mac Adam, Co. Wicklow. The building has completely disappeared; but the ancient cemetery still remains.

Cell-fine Shearman identifies with Killeen Cormac, now an old churchyard, ‘three miles south-west of Dunlavin;’ but, as might be expected after the ravages of the Danes, all traces of the relics have completely disappeared. The third church, Dominica Arda, as it is called in the old Latin, Shearman locates in the parish now called Donard in the west of the Co. Wicklow. We do not assent to Shearman’s location of the last two churches, mainly because we think it improbable that Palladius and his associates, remaining for so short a time in the country, penetrated the Wicklow mountains so far to the west. We think all these sites should be sought for in the neighbourhood of the town of Wicklow, where Palladius landed; but, while the matter is still doubtful, we may accept the suggestions of Shearman, as not by any means certain, but as probable.

The Scholiast of Fiacc probably gives the true account of the subsequent history of Palladius. He tells us that Palladius was not well received by the people of Wicklow, but was forced to go round the north coast of Ireland until, driven by a great tempest, he reached ‘the extreme part of Mohaidh to the South,’ where he founded the Church of Fordun. ‘Pledi is his name there.’ The Second Life adds that Palladius died after a short time in the plain of Girginn, in a place which is called Fordun, ‘but others say he was crowned with martyrdom there’—‘that is,’ the Fourth Life adds, ‘in the region of the Picts’; others, however, say that ‘he was crowned with martyrdom in Hibernia,’ but this last suggestion may be summarily dismissed as altogether unsupported by any Irish authority.

Palladius died, therefore, shortly after leaving Ireland, ‘in the region of the Picts,’ in the plain called Magh Girginn, at the town of Fordun. Such is the concurrent testimony of several of our most ancient authorities. Skene, a very judicious critic, suggests that this legend “owes its origin to the fact that the Church of Fordun in the Mearns (Magh Girginn) was dedicated to Palladius under the local name of Paldi, or Pledi, and was believed to possess his relics,” and that these relics were brought to Fordun by his disciple Ternan, either from Ireland or from Galloway. We think it far safer to adhere to ancient authorities, for Skene only meets one difficulty by raising another. He cannot accept the statement that the storm blew Palladius round the north coast of Scotland, and then down south as far as Fordun; so he suggests that if not martyred in Ireland he must have died in Galloway.

But what is to prevent us from assuming that Palladius was driven into the Firth of Clyde, and that, still anxious to carry out his mission so far as he could by preaching to the Pictish tribes, he made his way overland to the Mearns, and there founded the Church of Fordun, which kept both his name and his relics for many ages? The fact that Palladius, instead of returning from Wicklow direct to Gaul, set out to preach the Gospel in Scotland, goes to show, in our opinion, that, like St. Patrick, he had some close connection with Britain, perhaps with North Britain, and that, failing in Ireland, he resolved to preach the Gospel in his own country, ‘to the apostate Picts’ beyond the Roman Wall.

Muirchu, in the Book of Armagh, says that Palladius failed in Ireland because ‘God hindered him’—did not grant him success—‘for no one can receive anything from earth except it be given to him from heaven.’ God destined the conversion of Ireland for St. Patrick, and no one else could succeed in the difficult task. He implies, too, that what we have just now stated regarding an overland journey to Mearns is highly probable, for, he says, on Palladius’ return hence, having crossed the first sea (to Britain), and having begun his land journey, he died in the territory of the Britons, or perhaps we should translate ‘in finibus Britonum’ on the border lands of the Britons, which might very well apply to Mearns.

And now let us come back to Patrick, who all this time was waiting the course of events, and the fulfilment of God’s will in his monastery in Gaul.






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