St. Patrick Catholic Church
Saint of the Day
 

Saint Patrick
(Optional Memorial)
March 17



Agricola of Châlon B (RM)
(also known as Agèrle, Arègle)

Born c. 497; died in Châlon, France, 580. In 532, Saint Agricola, son of a Gallo-Roman senator, was consecrated bishop of Châlon-sur-Saône. His friend, Saint Gregory of Tours, wrote that Agricola lived a simple, austere life devoted to promoting the spiritual good of his people, and in the 48 years of his episcopacy attended several Church councils and enlarged and beautified many of the churches of his diocese (Benedictines, Delaney).


Alexander and Theodore MM (RM)
Date unknown. The names Alexander and Theodore appear in Jerome's martyrology as well as that of Rome. It has been conjectured that they should be identified with Saints Alexander and Theodulus (Benedictines).


Ambrose of Alexandria (AC)
Died c. 250. Saint Ambrose, a rich nobleman of Alexandria, befriended and financially helped the great Eastern Father of the Church, Origen. He suffered imprisonment for the faith under Maximinus but was released and died as a confessor (Benedictines).


Gertrude of Nivelles, OSB Abbess (RM)
Born at Landen in 626; died at Nivelles in 659. Saint Gertrude was the younger daughter of Blessed Pepin of Landen and Blessed Itta. Her sister Begga is also numbered among the saints. At an early age she devoted herself to the religious life.

On the death of Pepin in 639 and on the advice of Saint Amand of Maastricht, Itta built a double monastery at Nivelles, where both mother and daughter retired. Gertrude was appointed abbess when she was judged old enough (about age 20). Although she was still very young, she discharged her responsibilities well with her mother's assistance. Gertrude was known for her hospitality pilgrims and her encouragement of and generous benefactions to the Irish missionary monks. She gave land to Saint Foillan, brother of Saint Fursey, on which he built the monastery of Fosses. She also helped the Irish Saint Ultan in his evangelizing efforts.

At age 30 (656), Gertrude resigned her office in favor of her niece, Saint Wilfetrudis, because she was weakened by her many austerities. She spent the rest of her days studying Scripture and doing penances. Gertrude is another of the medieval mystics who was gifted with visions, and like Saint Catherine of Siena died at the significant age of 33--the age of Our Lord at His death. The cultus of Saint Gertrude became widely spread in the Lowlands, neighboring countries, and England. A considerable body of folklore gathered around her name. Saint Gertrude is named in Saint Bede's martyrology (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer).

In art Gertrude is an abbess with mice (representing the souls in purgatory to whom she had a great devotion) running up her pastoral staff. Sometimes she is shown (1) holding a large mouse; (2) spinning or holding a distaff; or (3) with a cat near her (Roeder). As late as 1822, offerings of gold and silver mice were left at her shrine in Cologne (Farmer).

Saint Gertrude is the patron saint of gardeners because fine weather on her feast day meant it was time to begin spring planting. Her patronage of travellers comes from her hospitality toward them (Delaney). Pilgrims used to drink a stirrup-cup in her honor before setting out. As an extension, she was also invoked as a patroness of those who had recently died, who were popularly supposed to experience a three-day journey to the next world. It was supposed that they spent the first night under the care of Gertrude, and the second under Saint Michael the Archangel. She is invoked against rats and mice (Farmer).


John Sarkander, SJ M (AC)
Born at Skotschau, Silesia, in 1576; died 1620; beatified by Pius IX in 1860; canonized by Pope John Paul II with Saint Zdislava Berka in Olomouc, Czech Republic, in 1995. The canonization of Saint John Sarkander drew sharp criticism from Czech and Slovakian Protestants, although the Holy Father offered and asked for forgiveness for past sins committed in the name of religion.

John's father died when he was still very young, but his mother ensured that he would receive an excellent education by sending him to the Jesuits schools at Olmutz and Prague, where he read philosophy in 1602. Four years later he married a Lutheran lady, Anna Platska, who died the following year. Shocked by this experience, he resumed his study of theology and was ordained to the priesthood in 1609.

He became a parish priest of Holleschau in Moravia (diocese of Olmutz), a church whose property was purchased by the Catholic Baron Lobkovitz from the Bohemian Brethren. John converted many Hussites and Bohemian Brethren, but as a result, he incurred the enmity of the Protestants, who came to power in Moravia in 1618 at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. At that time Saint John made a pilgrimage to Czestochowa, Poland, and remained for some months in Cracow.

In 1620, King Sigismund III of Poland sent Cossack troops into Moravia to support Emperor Ferdinand III against the Protestant Estates. Although the Cossacks spared Holeschau when they met Sarkander in procession, he was unjustly accused of conspiring with the Poles, sent to Olmutz, and chained in a dungeon to await questioning.

At his trial, he denied any complicity in treasonable acts. He refused the order to reveal what he heard in confession from his penitent, the baron of Moravia. For his continued refusal to break the seal of the confessional, three times in mid-February, he was cruelly racked, branded, covered with pitch and tar, and set ablaze. He survived the ill-treatment, but died within the month (Benedictines, Farmer).


Joseph of Arimathea (RM)
1st century. We read about Joseph of Arimathea, the "noble counsellor," in all four Gospels (Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-56; and John 19:38-42). As with many of the Biblical figures, numerous legends accrued around his name in later years.

Saint Joseph was a wealthy member of the temple council and a secret follower of Jesus because he was afraid of persecution from Jewish officials. He attended the Crucifixion, and legend has it that he caught Jesus's blood as he hung upon the cross. (What is said to be the Sacro Catino in which Joseph caught the blood of Christ at the Crucifixion is at San Lorenzo, Genoa, Italy.) Joseph persuaded Pontius Pilate to let him have Jesus's body, wrapped it in linen and herbs, and laid it in a tomb carved in a rock in the side of a hill, a tomb that he had prepared for himself.

Later tradition has embellished this account to add that Joseph was a distant relative of Jesus, who derived his wealth from tin mines in Cornwall, which he visited from time to time. One version tells the story of the teenaged Jesus accompanying Joseph on one such visit. This is the background of the poem "Jerusalem," by William Blake (1757-1827):

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!
O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

This version continues to say that, after the Crucifixion, Saint Joseph returned to Cornwall, bringing with him the chalice of the Last Supper, known as the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail was hidden and played an important part in the folk history of England in the great national epic about King Arthur and his knights who unsuccessful seek to find it.

Upon reaching Glastonbury, he planted his staff, which took root and blossomed into a thorn tree. This is the Holy Thorn, which flowers at Christmas. King Charles I baited his wife's Roman Catholic chaplain by observing that, although Pope Gregory had proclaimed a reform of the calendar, the Glastonbury Thorn ignored the Pope's decree and continued to blossom on Christmas Day according to the Old Calendar. One of Cromwell's soldiers cut down the Thorn because it was a relic of superstition. We are told that he was blinded by one of the thorns as it fell. A tree allegedly grown from a cutting of the original Thorn survives today in Glastonbury (and trees propagated from it stand on the grounds of the Cathedral in Washington, DC, and presumably elsewhere) and leaves from it are sold in all the tourist shops in Glastonbury.

It was not until about the middle of the 13th century that the legend appears saying Joseph accompanied Saint Philip to Gaul to preach and was sent by him to England as the leader of 12 missionaries. It is said that the company, inspired by Gabriel the archangel, built a church made of wattles in honor of the Virgin Mary on an island called Yniswitrin, given to them by the king of England. The church eventually evolved into Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset. Supposedly Joseph died there, was buried on the island, and miraculous cures worked at his grave. This burial site is unlikely though.

Is there any merit to the legends of Saint Joseph? Perhaps. Tin, an essential ingredient of bronze, was highly valued in ancient times, and Phoenician ships imported tin from Cornwall. It is not unreasonable to believe that some first-century, Jewish Christians might have been investors in the Cornwall tin trade. Christianity gained a foothold in Britain very early, perhaps, in part, because of the commerce in tin. If so, then the early British Christians would have a tradition that they had been evangelized by a wealthy Jewish Christian. Having forgotten his name, they might have consulted the Scriptures and found that Joseph and Saint Barnabas fit the description. Because much of the life of Barnabas was already described by the Acts of the Apostles making him an unlikely candidate, only Joseph was left. Thus, Christians seeking an immediate connection with their Lord, grasped on to Joseph as their evangelizer (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Robinson, White).

In art, Saint Joseph is portrayed as a very old man, carrying a pot of ointment or a flowering staff or a pair of altar cruets (containing the blood and sweat of Jesus) (White). He may be shown taking the crown of thorns from the dead Christ. At other times he is shown with the shroud and crown of thorns, a thorn tree by him, or a box of spices (Roeder). Click here to see William Blake's Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion. He is venerated at Glastonbury and patron of grave-diggers and undertakers (Roeder, White).


Martyrs of Seramis (RM)
Died 390. Nothing found.


Patrick of Ireland B (RM)
Born in Scotland, c. 385-390; died in Ireland c. 461.

"I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with his Baptism,
The virtue of His Crucifixion with his burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of the seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,

The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today.

God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to teach me,
God's eye to watch over me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to give me speech,
God's hand to guide me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to shelter me,
God's host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile, merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man and woman.

Christ, protect me today
Against poison,
Against burning,
Against drowning,
Against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ be with me,
Christ be before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ be with me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left,
Christ be in the fort,
Christ be in the chariot,
Christ be in the ship,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity.
I believe the Trinity in the Unity,
The Creator of the Universe. Amen."

--Saint Patrick's Breastplate or Faeth Fiadha (deer's cry).

Note that there are several different versions of this prayer, which is alleged to be the invocation that led Patrick and his party safely to the confrontation with the Druids at Tara. It's Irish name, the Deer's Cry, is based on the legend that Patrick and his eight companions were miraculously turned into deer to be able to pass unnoticed by the king's guards sent to intercept them.

"I was like a stone lying in the deep mire; and He that is mighty came, and in His mercy lifted me up, and verily raised me aloft and placed me on the top of the wall."

--Saint Patrick

The historical Patrick is much more attractive than the Patrick of legend. It is unclear exactly where Patricius Magonus Sucatus (Patrick) was born--somewhere in the west between the mouth of the Severn and the Clyde--but this most popular Irish saint was probably born in Scotland of British origin, perhaps in a village called Bannavem Taberniae. (Other possibilities are in Gaul or at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, Scotland.) His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon and a civil official, a town councillor, and his grandfather was a priest.

About 405, when Patrick was in his teens (14-16), he was captured by Irish raiders and became a slave in Ireland. There in Ballymena (or Slemish) in Antrim (or Mayo), Patrick first learned to pray intensely while tending his master's sheep in contrast with his early years in Britain when he "knew not the true God" and did not heed clerical "admonitions for our salvation." After six years, he was told in a dream that he should be ready for a courageous effort that would take him back to his homeland.

He ran away from his owner and travelled 200 miles to the coast. His initial request for free passage on a ship was turned down, but he prayed, and the sailors called him back. The ship on which he escaped was taking dogs to Gaul (France). At some point he returned to his family in Britain, then seems to have studied at the monastery of Lérins on the Côte d'Azur from 412 to 415.

He received some kind of training for the priesthood in either Britain or Gaul, possibly in Auxerre, including study of the Latin Bible, but his learning was not of a high standard, and he was to regret this always. He spent the next 15 years at Auxerre were he became a disciple of Saint Germanus of Auxerre and was possibly ordained about 417.

The cultus of Patrick began in France, long before Sucat received the noble title of Patricius, which was immediately before his departure for Ireland about 431. The center of this cultus is a few miles west of Tours, on the Loire, around the town of St- Patrice, which is named after him. The strong, persistent legend is that Patrick not only spent the twenty years after his escape from slavery there, but that it was his home. The local people firmly believe that Patrick was the nephew of Saint Martin of Tours and that he became a monk in his uncle's great Marmoutier Abbey.

Patrick's cultus there reverts to the legend of Les Fleurs de St- Patrice which relates that Patrick was sent from the abbey to preach the Gospel in the area of Bréhémont-sur-Loire. He went fishing one day and had a tremendous catch. The local fishermen were upset and forced him to flee. He reached a shelter on the north bank where he slept under a blackthorn bush. When he awoke the bush was covered with flowers. Because this was Christmas day, the incident was considered a miracle, which recurred each Christmas until the bush was destroyed in World War I. The phenomenon was evaluated many times and verified by various observers, including official organizations. His is now the patron of the fishermen on the Loire and, according to a modern French scholar, the patron of almost every other occupation in the neighborhood. There is a grotto dedicated to him at Marmoutier, which contains a stone bed, alleged to have been his.

It is said that in visions he heard voices in the wood of Focault or that he dreamed of Ireland and determined to return to the land of his slavery as a missionary. In that dream or vision he heard a cry from many people together "come back and walk once more among us," and he read a writing in which this cry was named 'the voice of the Irish.' (When Pope John Paul II went to Ireland in 1979, among his first words were that he, too, had heard the "voice of the Irish.")

In his Confessio Patrick writes: "It was not my grace, but God who overcometh in me, so that I came to the heathen Irish to preach the Gospel . . . to a people newly come to belief which the Lord took from the ends of the earth." Saint Germanus consecrated him bishop about 432, and sent him to Ireland to succeed Saint Palladius, the first bishop, who had died earlier that year. There was some opposition to Patrick's appointment, probably from Britain, but Patrick made his way to Ireland about 435.

He set up his see at Armagh and organized the church into territorial sees, as elsewhere in the West and East. While Patrick encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns, it is not certain that he was a monk himself; it is even less likely that in his time the monastery became the principal unit of the Irish Church, although it was in later periods. The choice of Armagh may have been determined by the presence of a powerful king. There Patrick had a school and presumably a small familia in residence; from this base he made his missionary journeys. There seems to have been little contact with the Palladian Christianity of the southeast.

There is no reliable account of his work in Ireland, where he had been a captive. Legends include the stories that he drove snakes from Ireland, and that he described the Trinity by referring to the shamrock, and that he singlehandedly--an impossible task--converted Ireland. Nevertheless, Saint Patrick established the Catholic Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles.

At Tara in Meath he is said to have confronted King Laoghaire on Easter Eve with the Christian Gospel, kindled the light of the paschal fire on the hill of Slane (the fire of Christ never to be extinguished in Ireland), confounded the Druids into silence, and gained a hearing for himself as a man of power. He converted the king's daughters (a tale I've recounted under the entry for Saints Ethenea and Fidelmia. He threw down the idol of Crom Cruach in Leitrim. Patrick wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again.

He gathered many followers, including Saint Benignus, who would become his successor. That was one of his chief concerns, as it always is for the missionary Church: the raising up of native clergy.

He wrote: "It was most needful that we should spread our nets, so that a great multitude and a throng should be taken for God. . . . Most needful that everywhere there should be clergy to baptize and exhort a people poor and needy, as the Lord in the Gospel warns and teaches, saying: Go ye therefore now, and teach all nations. And again: Go ye therefore into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. And again: This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations."

In his writings and preaching, Patrick revealed a scale of values. He was chiefly concerned with abolishing paganism, idolatry, and sun-worship. He made no distinction of classes in his preaching and was himself ready for imprisonment or death for following Christ. In his use of Scripture and eschatological expectations, he was typical of the 5th-century bishop. One of the traits which he retained as an old man was a consciousness of his being an unlearned exile and former slave and fugitive, who learned to trust God completely.

There was some contact with the pope. He visited Rome in 442 and 444. As the first real organizer of the Irish Church, Patrick is called the Apostle of Ireland. According to the Annals of Ulster, the Cathedral Church of Armagh was founded in 444, and the see became a center of education and administration. Patrick organized the Church into territorial sees, raised the standard of scholarship (encouraging the teaching of Latin), and worked to bring Ireland into a closer relationship with the Western Church.

His writings show what solid doctrine he must have taught his listeners. His Confessio (his autobiography, perhaps written as an apology against his detractors), the Lorica (or Breastplate), and the "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus," protesting British slave trading and the slaughter of a group of Irish Christians by Coroticus's raiding Christian Welshmen, are the first surely identified literature of the British or Celtic Church.

What stands out in his writings is Patrick's sense of being called by God to the work he had undertaken, and his determination and modesty in carrying it out: "I, Patrick, a sinner, am the most ignorant and of least account among the faithful, despised by many. . . . I owe it to God's grace that so many people should through me be born again to him."

Towards the end of his life, Patrick made that 'retreat' of forty days on Cruachan Aigli in Mayo from which the age-long Croagh Patrick pilgrimage derives. Patrick may have died at Saul on Strangford Lough, Downpatrick, where he had built his first church. Glastonbury claims his alleged relics. The National Museum at Dublin has his bell and tooth, presumably from the shrine at Downpatrick, where he was originally entombed with Saints Brigid and Columba.

The high veneration in which the Irish hold Patrick is evidenced by the common salutation, "May God, Mary, and Patrick bless you." His name occurs widely in prayers and blessings throughout Ireland. Among the oldest devotions of Ireland is the prayer used by travellers invoking Patrick's protection, An Mhairbhne Phaidriac or The Elegy of Patrick. He is alleged to have promised prosperity to those who seek his intercession on his feast day, which marks the end of winter. A particularly lovely legend is that the Peace of Christ will reign over all Ireland when the Palm and the Shamrock meet, which means when St. Patrick's Day fall on Passion Sunday.

Most unusual is Well of Saint Patrick at Orvieto, Italy, which was built at the order of Pope Clement VII in 1537 to provide water for the city during its periodic sieges. The connection with Saint Patrick comes from the fact that the project was completed and dedicated by a member of the Sangallo family, a name derived from the Irish Saint Gall. A common Italian proverb refers to this exceptionally deep (248 steps to the surface) well: liberal spenders are said to have pockets as deep as the Well of Patrick (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Bieler, Bury, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, MacNeill, Montague, White).

We are told that often Patrick baptized hundreds on a single day. He would come to a place, a crowd would gather, and when he told them about the true God, the people would cry out from all sides that they wanted to become Christians. Then they would move to the nearest water to be baptized.

On such a day Aengus, a prince of Munster, was baptized. When Patrick had finished preaching, Aengus was longing with all his heart to become a Christian. The crowd surrounded the two because Aengus was such an important person. Patrick got out his book and began to look for the place of the baptismal rite but his crozier got in the way.

As you know, the bishop's crozier often has a spike at the bottom end, probably to allow the bishop to set it into the ground to free his hands. So, when Patrick fumbled searching for the right spot in the book so that he could baptize Aengus, he absent-mindedly stuck his crosier into the ground just beside him--and accidentally through the foot of poor Aengus!

Patrick, concentrating on the sacrament, never noticed what he had done and proceeded with the baptism. The prince never cried out, nor moaned; he simply went very white. Patrick poured water over his bowed head at the simple words of the rite. Then it was completed. Aengus was a Christian. Patrick turned to take up his crozier and was horrified to find that he had driven it through the prince's foot!

"But why didn't you say something? This is terrible. Your foot is bleeding and you'll be lame. . . ." Poor Patrick was very unhappy to have hurt another.

Then Aengus said in a low voice that he thought having a spike driven through his foot was part of the ceremony. He added something that must have brought joy to the whole court of heaven and blessings on Ireland:

"Christ," he said slowly, "shed His blood for me, and I am glad to suffer a little pain at baptism to be like Our Lord" (Curtayne).

In art, Saint Patrick is represented as a bishop driving snakes before him or trampling upon them. At times he may be shown (1) preaching with a serpent around the foot of his pastoral staff; (2) holding a shamrock; (3) with a fire before him; or (4) with a pen and book, devils at his feet, and seraphim above him (Roeder, White). Click here to view an anonymous American icon. He is patron of Nigeria (which was evangelized primarily by Irish clergy) and of Ireland and especially venerated at Lérins (Roeder, White).


Paul of Cyprus M (RM)
Died 777. Saint Paul was a monk of Cyprus, who, in the reign of the iconoclastic emperor Constantine Copronymus, refused to trample on a crucifix. He was brutally tortured, hung upside down, and burned to death slowly over a fire (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).


Blessed Peter Lieou M (AC)
Died 1834; beatified in 1900. A Chinese layman, Blessed Peter converted to Christianity in his youth. He was exiled for his faith to Tartary in 1814. In 1827, he was allowed to return. During a fresh persecution, he gained entry into the prison to comfort and strengthen his sons and was strangled (Benedictines).


Blessed Stephen of Palestrina, OSB Cist. B (PC)
Died 1144. Blessed Stephen, a monk of Clairvaux, was promoted to cardinal and consecrated to the see of Palestrina in 1141. Cistercian writers always call him either saint or blessed; however, his cultus has never been formally confirmed (Benedictines).



About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.