Did St. Patrick Perform Miracles?

illustration of st. patrick healing the sick

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Look, I’ve already spent a lot of time in previous posts calling St. Patrick’s legacy into question and casting doubt on nearly everything he’s purported to have accomplished. So instead of trying to convince you that miracles aren’t real and that most can be explained away by coincidence or misinterpretation or embellishment or straight-up fabrication, I’m simply going to take this time to share some of the miracles St. Patrick was alleged to have performed…

…except for this first one. I’m going to pick this one apart for the sake of halting the spread of misinformation.

The miracle of St. Patrick raising the dead is widely, and wrongly, reported to be historical, as some (misinformed) people attribute the following quotation directly to St. Patrick, claiming it came from one of his letters:

“The Lord hath given to me, though humble, the power of working miracles among a barbarous people, such as are not recorded to have been worked by the great Apostles; inasmuch as, in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I have raised from the dead bodies that have been buried many years…”

Here’s the thing though: Patrick never wrote that. Not in his Confession nor in his Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus. (Go check!) Where that quotation comes from, in fact, is a twelfth-century hagiography, The Life and Acts of St. Patrick. And that work (and others like it) is the source of many of the miracles attributed to St. Patrick. These include the snake-driving, which you’re already familiar with, as well as the miracle of Patrick turning himself and his twenty companions into a herd of deer so that they could escape the clutches of some angry druids.

painting of St. Patrick carrying a baby deer
Saint Patrick and the Cry of the Deer by Briton Rivière (c) Sudley House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(Note: The deer story is where the ancient Irish prayer of protection, or lorica, often attributed to St. Patrick, got its name: “The Deer’s Cry“. It also goes by the name “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate“, as lorica originally meant “armor” in Latin.)

One seemingly miraculous event that Patrick did write about (in his Confession) occurred shortly after Patrick escaped slavery and boarded a ship to mainland Europe. Having made landfall, Patrick and his shipmates “travelled through a wilderness” for twenty-eight days. Eventually, they ran ran out of food. Here’s what happened next, in Patrick’s own words:

“The captain turned to me and said: ‘What about this, Christian? You tell us that your God is great and all-powerful – why can’t you pray for us, since we’re in a bad state with hunger? There’s no sign of us finding a human being anywhere!’ Then I said to them with some confidence: ‘Turn in faith with all your hearts to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that he may put food in your way – even enough to make you fully satisfied! He has an abundance everywhere.’ With the help of God, this is actually what happened! A herd of pigs appeared in the way before our eyes!”

source: The Confession of St. Patrick

Ask and you shall receive… bacon. If anyone out there was looking for a justification (beyond deliciousness) for eating a full Irish breakfast on St. Patrick’s Day, now you have it.


Editor’s note: this article is an excerpt from “20 Questions With St. Patrick: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the ‘Apostle of Ireland’”


Further Reading

The Letters of Saint Patrick: An Historic New Translation

by John Luce and Marcus Losack

Per the publisher: “Written in the Fifth Century, Saint Patrick’s Letters have continued to be a source of inspiration and intrigue for so many people. A reflection of his ideals and faith, previous translations have already uncovered the deep personality at the heart of the Saint, inspiring many with his own words. Historical documents that they are though, scholars have striven to deliver the closest interpretation possible to attain a straight translation of the Letters, as even the smallest updates to perceived prior errors can award new insight into Saint Patrick’s holy message. Learn more…


The Confession of Saint Patrick and Letter to Coroticus

by John Skinner

Per the publisher: “Beyond being recognized as the patron saint of Ireland (perhaps for having chased some nonexistent snakes off the Emerald Isle), little else is popularly known about Saint Patrick.  And yet, Patrick left behind a unique document, his Confession, which tells us much about both his life and his beliefs.  This autobiography, originally written in the fifth century, and short by modern standards, is nonetheless a work that fascinates with its glimpse into the life of an intriguing man, and inspires with its testament of faith.” Learn more…


St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

by Philip Freeman

Per the publisher: “Ireland’s patron saint has long been shrouded in legend, but the true story of St. Patrick is far more inspiring than the myths. In St. Patrick of Ireland, Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world vividly to life. Patrick speaks in his own voice in two remarkable letters he wrote about himself and his beliefs, new translations of which are included here and which are still astonishing for their passion and eloquence.” Learn more…


Patrick

by Stephen Lawhead

Per the publisher: “Set in an era of brutal conflict and turmoil, this epic adventure is the first novel to tell the full story of the slave who became a saint, of the man who rose to the challenge of his time and changed the course of history. In the summer of 405AD, Irish raiders attack the western coast of Wales, carving a fiery swathe through the peaceful countryside. Among the survivors who are rounded up and taken back to Ireland is Succat: an impulsive sixteen-year-old son of a powerful Roman family.” Learn more…


Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland

by Tomie dePaola

Per the publisher: “An illustrated tribute to the Irish patron saint from the best-selling author of Quiet, Strega Nona, and many others. This timeless picture book, available in large-format paperback or as the board book Saint Patrick, is a perfect introduction to important Irish legends and an ideal St. Patrick’s day gift. Beloved children’s book author-illustrator Tomie dePaola recounts the life of Saint Patrick—from his noble birth in Britain, to his captivity in Ireland, to the visions which led him to return and found the first Christian church in Ireland.” Learn more…


Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

by multiple authors

A collection of 17 short stories, NEON DRUID mixes urban fantasy and Celtic mythology, creating a universe where lecherous leprechauns and debaucherous druids inhabit the local pubs, and where shapeshifting water spirits from Scotland and sword-wielding warriors from Ireland lurk in the alleyways. Stories range from tales of supernatural horror, to street-level fantasy adventures, to farcical, whiskey-drenched fairytales. Learn more…


More book ideas:


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