Mission of St. Palladius

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter VIII

The first Christian mission to Ireland, for which we have definite and reliable data, was that of St. Palladius.

St. Prosper, who held a high position in the Roman Church, published a chronicle in the year 433, in which we find the following register:

“Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine, and sent as the first Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.”[2]

This mission was unsuccessful.

Palladius was repulsed by the inhabitants of Wicklow,[3] where he landed.

He then sailed northward, and was at last driven by stress of weather towards the Orkneys, finding harbour, eventually, on the shores of Kincardineshire.

Several ancient tracts give the details of his mission, its failure, and his subsequent career.

The first of those authorities is the Life of St. Patrick in the Book of Armagh; and in this it is stated that he died in the “land of the Britons.”

The second Life of St. Patrick, in Colgan's collection, has changed Britons into “Picts.”

In the “Annotations of Tierchan,” also preserved in the Book of Armagh,[4] it is said that Palladius was also called Patricius,[5] and that he suffered martyrdom among the Scots, “as ancient saints relate.”

Prosper also informs us, that Palladius was a deacon [6] of the Roman Church, and that he received a commission from the Holy See to send Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, to root out heresy,[7] and convert the Britons to the Catholic faith.

Thus we find the Church, even in the earliest ages, occupied in her twofold mission, of converting the heathen, and preserving the faithful from error.

St. Innocent I., writing to Decentius, in the year 402, refers thus to this important fact:

“Is it not known to all that the things which have been delivered to the Roman Church by Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and preserved ever since, should be observed by all; and that nothing is to be introduced devoid of authority, or borrowed elsewhere? Especially, as it is manifest that no one has founded churches for all Italy, the Gauls, Spain, Africa, and the interjacent islands, except such as were appointed priests by the venerable Peter and his successors.”

Palladius was accompanied by four companions: Sylvester and Solinus, who remained after him in Ireland; and Augustinus and Benedictus, who followed him [8] to Britain, but returned to their own country after his death.

The Vita Secunda mentions that he brought relics of the blessed Peter and Paul, and other saints, to Ireland, as well as copies of the Old and New Testament, all of which were given to him by Pope Celestine.


[2] Christ.—"Ad Scotos in Christum credentes ordinatur a papa Caelestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur."—Vet. Lat. Scrip. Chron. Roncallius, Padua, 1787.

[3]  Wicklow.—Probably on the spot where the town of Wicklow now stands. It was then called the region of Hy-Garchon. It is also designated Fortreatha Laighen by the Scholiast on Fiacc's Hymn. The district, probably, received this name from the family of Eoichaidh Finn Fothart, a brother of Conn of the Hundred Battles.

[4] Armagh.—Fol. 16, a. a.

[5] Patricius.—This name was but an indication of rank. In the later years of the Roman Empire, Gibbon says, "the meanest subjects of the Roman Empire [5th century] assumed the illustrious name of Patricius."—Decline and Fall, vol. viii. p. 300. Hence the confusion that arose amongst Celtic hagiographers, and the interchanging of the acts of several saints who bore the same name.

[6] Deacon.—This was an important office in the early Roman Church.

[7] Heresy.—The Pelagian.

[8] Followed him.—The Four Masters imply, however, that they remained in Ireland. They also name the three wooden churches which he erected. Cels-fine, which has not been identified; Teach-na-Romhan, House of the Romans, probably Tigroni; and Domlmach-Arta, probably the present Dunard.—Annals, p. 129.