Saint Patrick and the Reptiles

From The Wonders of Ireland by P. W. Joyce, 1911

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Giraldus tells us that there was at one time a dispute whether the Isle of Man belonged to Great Britain or to Ireland. Bat the matter was settled by the fact that reptiles brought from Great Britain to the Isle of Man did not die but lived on in good health and spirits, which showed beyond doubt that this island belonged to Great Britain, not to Ireland.

"It happened in my time," saith Giraldus Cambrensis (following up his account of Ireland's fatal influence on reptiles—still in Stanyhurst's translation), "that in the north of England a knot of youngkers toke a nap in the fields. As one of them laie snoring, with his mouth gaping as though he would have caught flies, it happened that a snake or adder slipt into his mouth, and glided down into his bellie, where harboring it selfe it began to roame up and downe and to feede on the young man his entrals. The patient being sore distracted and above measure tormented with the biting pangs of this greedy ghest, incessantlie praied to God that if it stood with His gratious will, either wholie to bereave him of his life or else of His unspeakable mercie to ease him of his paine. The worme would never ceasse from gnawing the patient his carcasse; but when he had taken his repast and his meat was no sooner digested then it would give a fresh onset in boring his guts.

"Diverse remedies were sought, and medicins and pilgrimages to saints, but all would not prevaile. Being at length schooled by the grave advice of some sage and expert father, that willed him to make his speedie repaire to Ireland, would tract no time, but busked himselfe over sea and arrived in Ireland. He did no sooner drinke of the water of that island and take of the vittels of Ireland, but forthwith he kild the snake, and so being lustie and livelie he returned into England."

This legend of the reptiles with its main features is given in the Norse "Kongs Skuggio."

In conjunction with this wonder of exemption from reptiles, some of the old books add that St. Patrick obtained for Ireland this blessing: namely, seven years before the Day of Judgment the sea shall flow over the whole island. By this means the Irish people who are then alive will be saved from the persecutions and traps and perils of Antichrist. See the Most Rev. Dr. Healy's Life of St. Patrick, p. 232.

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