Green, Grace, and a Great Story!

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!



What a  great month to be celebrating my Blogoversary!  My third post, originally published on March 13, 2011, was about a favorite historical topic of mine – the story of how Christianity came to the British Isles and the great part played in His Story by the many missionary men and women who braved the darkness of a pagan and illiterate culture to bring the saving Grace of God, Light of the Gospel, and literacy to the ancient Celtic lands – England, Scotland, and – of course – Ireland.

Since I had barely made it into Blogland at the time, and perhaps a total of five of my friends actually read it, I thought I’d re-post the piece on the day itself – St. Patrick’s Day – sharing a little Green with all and sundry on Pink Saturday, Faithful Fridays, and Spiritual Sundays!  Enjoy!
 

“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.”
                                                Thomas Cahill
                                                How the Irish Saved Civilization
Storytelling has always been an important part of the Irish culture. There are many tales of olden days, when the first people lived on Irish land. These people were conquered by invaders from Gaul and the mainland. Slowly, the original inhabitants of Ireland, shrunk, becoming the “little people” of legend. Whenever something odd happened, the Irish would blame the “wee folk” – leprechauns and fairies – and endless tales of mischief delighted generation after generation.
Fanciful stories of faerie folk and little green people of questionable temper have their place in the realms of make-believe.  But, truth is often stranger than fiction – and there is one story belonging to the Irish that has been told for 1500 years, continuing to inspire generation after generation.
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.
St. Patrick was a shepherd slave keeping flocks of sheep.
He lived alone in a mountain home with freezing hands and feet.
He prayed all day – he prayed all night and the Lord God he did meet:

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 a good student who learned his lessons well.
He went to school for discipline to read and write and spell.
In his new life there was no strife he loved to learn and grow;
Then God said . . .
Do not fear, I am near – back to Ireland you must go!

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:

Hunting mice is his delight. Hunting words I sit all night.
‘Tis a merry thing to see, at our tasks how glad are we
When at home we sit and find, entertainment to our mind.
“Gainst the wall he sets his eye, full and fierce and sharp and sly;
“Gainst the wall of knowledge I, all my little wisdom try.
So in peace our task we ply. Pangur Ban my cat and I;
In our arts we find our bliss. I have mine and he has his.

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.”

* The following works have been excerpted for this article:
Part 1 & Part 2:  St Patrick of Ireland, A Biography, by Phillip Freeman, pages xi-xiii
Part 3:  Celtic Parables, by Robert Van De Weyer, Abingdon Press, page 9
Part 4:  Patrick’s Song, by Kathryn Ross
Part 5:  Excerpted from How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill

RECOMMENDED READING:  I can’t say enough about Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization!  The historical picture he paints of a world in chaos, and how God prepared a land and a man to protect the treasure of the gospel and the literary record of mankind for future generations, has become a “spiritual landmark” for me in strengthening my faith and confidence in a God whose good will towards man cannot be thwarted by the evil in man’s heart.  

“And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  
Romans 8:28

ENTER MY 1st BLOGOVERSARY GIVE-AWAY!

I’ll be celebrating all month!  To enter, all you have to do is comment on my posts all month!  I will be collecting ALL the comments (so the more you comment the more your name is in the hat) and draw a winner at the end of the month on March 31 – announcing the winner at Beverly’s Pink Saturday!  And – don’t be surprised if by month’s end I have added more treasures to our potpourri of prizes!  Perhaps – there will be multiple winners . . . too . . .

Thank you for a great first year of blogging!  Bless you all in Blogland – and, see you ’round the posts!

Sharing this St. Patrick’s Day post today with:
 Beverly on Pink Saturday at How Sweet the Sound
Charlotte on Spiritual Sundays
Laura on Faith Filled Fridays at Beholding Glory
 

Comments

  1. Oh my, Kathryn! What a pleasant time I had reading this post…I read it twice! This time period in Ireland and England is MY FAVORITE…right at the end of the Roman Empire, when troops had been called home (to Rome) from Britain!!!!!!!!!I absolutely am fascinated by the particular moment in time. Thanks for the info. I will look for the book you mentioned. Happy St Pattys Day!
    xox

  2. Kathryn,
    I placed a link to this post in my newest Blog post. Have a great weekend! xo
    Shawn

  3. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    Pink slippers, hope you’d come and see. Have a blessed Sunday!

  4. I loved reading the story of St. Patrick again! Thank you for retelling it! I hope you are having an enjoyable weekend!

  5. Top o’ the morning to you, lassie.

    Just loved this lesson in history – learned so many new things! And I loved this: A slave again, but now God was my master.

    Yes, indeed.

    Both my grandmas were born in Scotland, and evidently the Scots are not fans of the Irish. But, just for you – my Scottish eyes are smiling!!

    GOD BLESS!

  6. Hi Kathy~
    Oh, how I wish I could be one of those fortunate students who get to sit at your feet and listen to you share stories! I bet that you have them mesmerized!!
    Hugs to you!
    Holly

  7. Your blog is so soothing. I will be back when I really want some relaxation.

  8. Kathryn … I loved your post! Your writing always grasps me and you share wonderful learning bits!! Hope you had a wonderful St. Patrick’s day!! xo C. (HHL)

  9. Wow, Kathryn, what a powerful history lesson. And I am always amazed at your gorgeous header pictures. Thank you so much for sharing with us on Spiritual Sundays.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

  10. Wow! Just love this!
    greetings from Holland,
    Ineke

  11. Oooo… a loooooonngg post about Saint Patrick! I’ll save this to read in the club at the airport today! Catching up on blog-reading as we’re on our way back to Manila.

    LOVE your green, girl!

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