Part 1 – The Fall of Rome and the Rise of the Irish Raiders*
The world ended in August, AD 410. That was the day Alaric and his band of Germanic Visigoths entered the city of Rome, sacking and looting the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known. The fall of the city sent a shudder through the Mediterranean lands, but in Roman Britain no one even noticed. Once the barbarians entered the gates of Rome, the Roman army was summoned to defend their capital and left the British Isle with no protection from her enemies.
The collapse of the Roman power was welcome news to the Irish who made their living raiding isolated British farms for slaves. The capture of young boys was the most lucrative since they could be broken easily and were useful in the dirty, dull tasks of farm life. The withdrawal of the Roman navy from the Irish sea made more daring raids possible, so one moonless night in late summer we can imagine that a few boats slipped into the narrow waterway separating Ireland from Britain and headed for a tempting prize – the rich settlements on Britain’s western coast, a land that included scores of poorly protected villas.
As the boats neared the shore, the sails were lowered from a single mast. Quickly and silently they slipped over the side into the water and carefully pulled their leather and wood-framed vessels onto the beach. A few men were left behind to guard the boats – no fires, no laughing, no talking above a whisper. If the boats were discovered and the alarm sounded, the raiders had no hope of seeing their Ireland home again.
Their footsteps were muffled as the men marched inland through the fields, til at last, in the distance, they could see their destination – a modest but prosperous villa of a loyal nobleman – a small two-story building with no more than a dozen rooms. The wall surrounding the structures stood no higher than a man’s neck.
Part 2 – Young Patrick is Seized!*
The Irishmen quickly moved over the wall or perhaps through an unlocked gate, with most slipping into the servant’s quarters while a handful carefully worked up the stairs of the main building into the sleeping chambers of the owners.
The young man in the second bedroom had no time to fight back. His parents were away in another town where his father served on the city council. He was alone on the villa’s second floor with only a few household servants downstairs when the raiders entered his room. They had him gagged and bound before he was fully awake. A chain was fastened around his neck, and along with the villa’s servants he was marched off in line to the waiting boat. Surely someone from the local guard would rescue him. Surely his parents would pay anything to ransom him. He was educated. He was of noble birth, due to inherit power and position in the city.
But the raiders moved with a swift efficiency, killing any captives who cried out for help or slowed them down. And there was no hope for rescue – the wild island where he was heading was beyond the reach of civilized Britain. His life of privilege and luxury was over – Patricius, known to later ages as Saint Patrick, was now a slave.
Part 3 – In His Own Words*
I, Patrick, am the most unlearned and the lowest of all the faithful. My father was a deacon, and my grandfather a priest. At the age of sixteen I was taken captive and shipped to Ireland, along with thousands of others.
When I arrived in Ireland, I was sent to tend sheep. I used to pray many times each day; and as I prayed, I felt God’s love fill my heart and strengthen my faith. I had to stay all night in a hut on the mountain, looking after the sheep, and each day I would wake to pray before dawn in all weathers – snow, frost, and rain. I remained as a slave in Ireland for six years.
One night when I was asleep, I heard a voice speaking to me. It told me that a ship was waiting to take me home. I awoke, and immediately ran down the mountain, and hurried to the coast. I found a ship about to set sail; and although the captain did not want to take me, one of the old sailors smuggled me aboard. I was overjoyed to see my family again, and at first thought I should never leave them again.
But one night I had another dream in which a voice spoke to me. The voice implored me to return to Ireland, and preach the Gospel. When I awoke I felt as if I were a slave again – but now God was my master.
Patrick never thought he’d see the shores of Ireland again. He finished his education and entered the ministry. As he sought the will of God for his life, he knew he must take the power of God’s Word to transform lives to the people of Ireland – the very people who had enslaved him in his youth for so many years. When he went, he brought with him the fruits of man’s literary achievements in addition to the Bible. Literacy was a tool he used to change the course of a nation – and ultimately the world.
Part 4 – Patrick’s Song*
|Photo by Frank Ippolito.|
And God said . . .
Do not fear, I am near – feed your hungry sheep.
St. Patrick was a holy man, he served God with his heart.
One day God freed him from his woes to make a brand new start.
He sailed away no more to stay with sheep in Irish fields:
Because God said . . .
Do not fear, I am near – Through you men will be healed.
St. Patrick was obedient to God’s call to leave his home.
He sailed away to Ireland’s shore with books about Greece & Rome.
He taught them all the Bible’s call to love God and fellow men;
And God said . . .
Do not fear, I am near – to do miracles with a pen.
St. Patrick taught men how to love, how to read and write and live.
Patrick’s Ireland rose to save the day –
What a great gift they would give.
Through their pen and art now we can be smart
Reading tales of long ago:
When God said . . .
Do not fear – I am near – I will always love you so!
Part 5: Ireland’s Legacy to the World Excerpted from How the Irish Saved Civilization*
Now, while Patrick and the men who followed him built great monasteries the length and breadth of this remote and forgotten island called Ireland, bringing light and life to a dark and violent world through love, literature, and learning, the rest of the world was in shambles due to the barbarian hordes sweeping across the Roman Empire with their darkness, illiteracy, and uncivilized ways. They “lost almost everything . . . titles, property, way of life, learning – especially learning. A world in chaos is not a world in which books are copied and libraries maintained. It is not a world where learned men have the leisure to become more learned. It is not a world for which the Latin professor schedules regular classes of young scholars and knowledge is dutifully transmitted year by placid year. . . As Roman culture died out and was replaced by vibrant new barbarian growths, people forgot many things – how to read, how to think, how to build magnificently.”
But, learning was a raging fire across Ireland. Towns grew up around monasteries built by Patrick and his followers – where everyone could come and learn, and rise to greater potential because of literacy and peace. People adopted civilized manners and ways due to Patrick’s influence. In Ireland, the pen was mightier than the sword. Dedicated monks labored to copy books, preserving 1200 years of civilization, recorded history, art, and literature that had been rescued from the marauders in the southern Roman cities across the channel. Here, in Ireland, the very least of nations, these works were hidden, until the day when the world knew better how to steward her wealth.
|A page from the Gospel of John in the
Bible manuscript, The Book of Kells.
Many of these manuscripts are among the world’s greatest art treasures – made in Ireland. Their makers were simple people, many with wit and humor that still touch us today. Like this little poem written in the margin of a page from the Bible: the young monk copying it over by hand had a little furry friend to help him pass his time and labors:
I and Pangur Ban my cat, ‘tis a like task we are at:
The Irish mastered Latin, Greek, and some Hebrew, as well as their own Irish for writing down their oral literary traditions. “Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books . . . tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had one tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they re-established literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.”
Part 4: Patrick’s Song, by Kathryn Ross