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.

Want to learn more about Saint Patrick? Check out…

Saint Patrick in Your Pocket

Separate man from myth, fact from folklore, in this small but mighty pocket guide dedicated to uncovering lesser-known facts about Ireland’s most beloved patron saint. Armed with answers to these 20 tantalizing questions, you’ll be the smartest reveler in the room at your next Saint Patrick’s Day party. Learn more…

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