St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

by Philip Freeman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743256346
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/22/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 529,978
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Philip Freeman is Qualley Professor of Classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a former professor of classics at Washington University in St. Louis. He was selected as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton for January 2012. He earned the first joint Ph.D. in classics and Celtic studies from Harvard University, and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, the American Academy in Rome, and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. The author of several previous books including Alexander the Great, St. Patrick of Ireland and Julius Caesar, he lives with his family in Decorah, Iowa. Visit him at

Read an Excerpt

St. Patrick of Ireland

A Biography
By Philip Freeman

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2004 Philip Freeman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7432-5634-4


Patrick's Life and Letters

Fifteen centuries ago an old man in Ireland wrote two of the most remarkable letters surviving from ancient times. Patrick had labored for decades as a priest and bishop on this island at the end of the world - labored, in spite of constant threats of slavery and death, to bring a new faith to a people beyond the realm of the crumbling Roman Empire. He also faced harassment from church officials abroad who thought him inadequate to the task and were perhaps jealous of his success. In spite of these difficulties, he succeeded in bringing a new way of life to the Irish people. Today millions around the world remember him every year during celebrations on St. Patrick's Day.

Yet what is he remembered for? Driving the snakes out of Ireland, entering contests to the death with pagan Druids, using the shamrock as an aid to explain the Trinity - all these are pious fictions created centuries later by well-meaning monks. The true story of Patrick is far more compelling than the medieval legends. This story is known best from two short letters written by Patrick himself, his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus and Confession.

That we possess these two remarkable documents at all is the result of Patrick being forced in his later years to write, first, a letter of appeal and condemnation to a slave-raiding king and his band of mercenary pirates and, second, a defense of his work against accusations by fellow churchmen. Though Patrick wrote neither of these letters as history or autobiography, they contain fascinating and precious bits of information about his own life as well as about Ireland during a turbulent age. The two letters are in fact the earliest surviving documents written in Ireland and provide us with glimpses of a world full of petty kings, pagan gods, quarreling bishops, brutal slavery, beautiful virgins, and ever-threatening violence. But more than anything else, they allow us to look inside the mind and soul of a remarkable man living in a world that was both falling apart and at the dawn of a new age. There are simply no other documents from ancient times that give us such a clear and heartfelt view of a person's thoughts and feelings. These are, above all else, letters of hope in a trying and uncertain time.

The details that Patrick gives us of his life are few and often tantalizingly vague, but what we do know is this: He was born a Roman citizen in Britain in the late fourth century A.D. His grandfather was a priest, and his father was both a Christian deacon and a Roman decurion, an important local magistrate. He received at least a basic education in Latin, as would any son of the Roman upper class. As a teenager he committed an unnamed sin so horrendous that it almost destroyed his career decades later in Ireland. Soon after this sin, at the age of fifteen, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates from his family's villa in Britain near a place named Bannaventa Berniae, transported across the Irish Sea, and sold into slavery along with many of his family's servants. For six grueling years, he watched over sheep day and night for a single master. He experienced a gradual but profound spiritual awakening during these years as a slave. This awakening included visions and warnings that he believed came directly from God and that would continue throughout his life. He escaped from Ireland on a ship of pagan sailors and eventually made his way back to his family in Britain.

Later he returned to Ireland to spread the Christian gospel and was made a bishop. He preached in areas that had not previously known any missionary work, and he had many converts, including the sons and daughters of Irish kings, but many of his flock seem to have been female slaves. He experienced enormous difficulties, including threats, kidnapping, robbery, and other violence. At some point in his later years, a group of his newly baptized converts were killed or taken into slavery by a petty British king named Coroticus, prompting his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. Also later in his life, he was accused by his fellow churchmen in Britain of corruption. He vigorously refuted these charges in his Confession.

But the letters of Patrick are not the only sources available for uncovering the story of his life and times. Archaeological excavations and discoveries shed a great deal of light on Roman Britain and early Ireland. Greek and Roman writers, although they never specifically mention Patrick, are marvelous aids in fleshing out the world he lived in. Later Irish traditions on Patrick, though full of legendary material, also preserve bits and pieces of genuine information. Taken together with his letters, these sources tell the story of an extraordinary man living in a tumultuous age.


Excerpted from St. Patrick of Ireland by Philip Freeman Copyright © 2004 by Philip Freeman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



Introduction: Patrick's Life and Letters

One: The Early Years

Two: Slavery

Three: Escape

Four: Home

Five: The Missing Years

Six: Return to Ireland

Seven: Kings

Eight: Druids

Nine: Virgins

Ten: The Ends of the Earth

Eleven: Coroticus

Twelve: Confession

Thirteen: Ireland After Patrick

Epilogue: Patrick's Letters

Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus


Irish Names and Words

Time Line

Suggested Reading


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St. Patrick of Ireland 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Laurenbdavis on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A lovely exploration of the life of St. Patrick. Imaginative, with fact-based reconstructions of significant events. Paints an altogether human portrait of the man. Utterly readable.
SileoIHS on LibraryThing 7 months ago
No nonsense straight forward handling based on primary and secondary source documents. It takes away the folklore, and discovers a real man...a real Christian...underneath.
theancientreader on LibraryThing 7 months ago
There certainly is a very large amount of information packed into a very small book (by comparison) here. This is an excellent work for those who have been curious, or are curious, about this famous Irish Saint, yet who are not so curious that they want to dig through a mind numbing academic work which would be better than xanax to provide a good nap. I am one of those people and I am one who greatly appreciated this work. In other areas of history, yes, I want something more in depth, but not on this particular subject. It is written in a scholarly manner, appears to be very well researched, yet I found not one page that I did not learn something from nor one page that caused my eyes to roll back into my head and wish the author would just get on with it. It was a good and informative read.I certainly am not going to rewrite the entire work in this form and call it a review. That has already been done. For greater detail refer to one of the well done and very in depth reviews already posted here. What I found most interesting about the book was the author¿s ability to paint a very vivid picture of the cultural and religious clash that too place in Ireland during St. Patrick¿s time. I enjoyed the brief look at the state of the Christian Church at that time and how it affected the people of that time. That story, to me, was just as fascinating as the one told by the author of the Great Saint himself. The brief look at the Celtic religious practices and beliefs was excellent. I also appreciated the author¿s ability to separate fact from all the fiction that has been dished out for years and years and do it in a nonoffensive way. This was quite refreshing. The author is quite careful to note fact from fiction, speculation from written and archeological fact. This was most helpful.The author has a wonderful popular history style, yet writes in a mode that does not insult your credulity nor does Freeman sensationalize events simply to hold the reader¿s interest. The facts alone, and the way the author presents them, are enough to keep you turning the pages on this one. The black and white maps provided are quite helpful as is the ¿dictionary¿ and foot noting. I enjoyed the translation of the two surviving letters of St. Patrick¿s ¿Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus¿ and the ¿Confession.¿ Both are a nice touch and added much to the value of the book. A work such as this, where so much has been lost down through the years is not an easy thing to write, but this author, Philip Freeman has done an excellent job. Now there are books out there that go into much greater depth on the subject of this obviously great man and I certainly would recommend further reading for those who are interested or who want to become experts on the subject. For myself, this work fit my needs perfectly. I wanted to know a bit about the man and I certainly learned it here. Recommend this one highly.Don Blankenship
jroach19 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This short book is a very good biography of St. Patrick. Using St. Patrick's surviving written work, Letter to Coroticus and Confession, Freeman paints of picture of what Patrick experienced in the late Roman Empire -- and as a slave and then bishop to the Irish. Freeman provides good historical background about Rome, the church and Ireland; and judicious interpretations and extrapolations from the written works. I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
St. Patriick was a great saint he started as a simple young boy and then became a very inspiring preist he is a great saint By the way... happy st patricks day:)
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