St Patrick standing on a snake in Purgatory: England, 1451 (London, British Library, MS Royal 17 B XLIII, f 132v)

While many people may assume that St. Patrick was Irish, a 5th century Latin text known as the Confessio gives us a good look at the St. Patrick of history. The author of the Confessio was a man named Patrick, and the general consensus is that he was the same Patrick now known as St. Patrick.

Patrick recounts how his father was a British deacon named Calpurnius, a name of decidedly Roman origin. Patrick was British, not Irish, and though precise dates are subject to debate, he was alive during the 5th century, immediately after Roman control of Britain ceased. Patrick names his childhood town, Bannavem Taburniae, and though the location of this town is still unknown, we can assume that Patrick grew up in the southwest of Britain.

This is a safe assumption, because Patrick tells how Irish pirates abducted him from the family estate when he was 16 years old. Patrick was taken to Ireland and enslaved, forced to work as the herdsman of his Irish captors’ livestock. While there, Patrick writes that he experienced an inner conversion toward his father’s God, and that he began to pray constantly as a result. Six years after being captured, Patrick managed to escape.


A statue of St. Patrick outside a church in Waterloo, Lambeth.

Though Patrick returned to his family in Britain and later became a priest, he could not put Ireland from his mind. In the Confessio, Patrick describes a dream where he heard ‘The Voice of the Irish’ calling out to him “We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.” In response, Patrick requested to be sent to Ireland as a missionary.

From that point, Patrick made it his life’s mission to evangelize the Irish people, and to help establish an ecclesiastical structure in Ireland. He succeeded in his mission to the Irish, the main reason why Catholicism was established in Ireland. In the centuries following his death Patrick became known as a saint, though he has never been formally canonised by a pope. The traditional date of St. Patrick’s death is March 17, the day the Irish celebrate the man who helped bring Christianity to Ireland.

Read St. Patrick’s Confessio here – [link]