St. Patrick’s Captivity

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter VIII

It is probable that St. Patrick was born in 387, and that in 403 he was made captive and carried into Ireland.

Those who believe Alcuith or Dumbarton to have been his birthplace, are obliged to account for his capture in Gaul—which has never been questioned—by supposing that he and his family had gone thither to visit the friends of his mother, Conchessa.

He was sold as a slave, in that part of Dalriada comprised in the county of Antrim, to four men, one of whom, Milcho, bought up their right from the other three, and employed him in feeding sheep or swine.

Exposed to the severity of the weather day and night, a lonely slave in a strange land, and probably as ignorant of the language as of the customs of his master, his captivity, would, indeed, have been a bitter one, had he not brought with him, from a holy home, the elements of most fervent piety.

A hundred times in the day, and a hundred times in the night, he lifted up the voice of prayer and supplication to the Lord of the bondman and the free, and faithfully served the harsh, and at times cruel, master to whom Providence had assigned him.

Perhaps he may have offered his sufferings for those who were serving a master even more harsh and cruel.

After six years he was miraculously delivered.

A voice, that was not of earth, addressed him in the stillness of the night, and commanded him to hasten to a certain port, where he would find a ship ready to take him to his own country.

“And I came,” says the saint, “in the power of the Lord, who directed my course towards a good end; and I was under no apprehension until I arrived where the ship was. It was then clearing out, and I called for a passage. But the master of the vessel got angry, and said to me, ‘Do not attempt to come with us.’ On hearing this I retired, for the purpose of going to the cabin where I had been received as a guest. And, on my way thither, I began to pray; but before I had finished my prayer, I heard one of the men crying out with a loud voice after me, ‘Come, quickly; for they are calling you,’ and immediately I returned. And they said to me, ‘Come, we receive thee on trust. Be our friend, just as it may be agreeable to you.’ We then set sail, and after three days reached land.”

The two Breviaries of Rheims and Fiacc's Hymn agree in stating that the men with whom Patrick embarked were merchants from Gaul, and that they landed in a place called Treguir, in Brittany, some distance from his native place. Their charity, however, was amply repaid.

Travelling through a desert country, they had surely perished with hunger, had not the prayers of the saint obtained them a miraculous supply of food.

It is said that St. Patrick suffered a second captivity, which, however, only lasted sixty days; but of this little is known.

Neither is the precise time certain, with respect to these captivities, at which the events occurred which we are about to relate.

After a short residence at the famous monastery of St. Martin, near Tours, founded by his saintly relative, he placed himself (probably in his thirtieth year) under the direction of St. Germain of Auxerre.