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Religious Subjects > Patrick

Rare 17th-century oak panel of St Patrick, probably Irish.

St Patrick, born in the 5th century in the west of Roman Britain, was captured when a boy by Irish pirates who took him to Ireland where he worked as a slave for about six years.  He somehow left or escaped from Ireland and went to France or, more probably, back to Britain, where he prayed, thought and studied and decided he should return to Ireland as a missionary.

Some Christians were already living in Ireland, but it was Patrick who made a big impression on the populace despite his lack of learning.  He established himself as a bishop in Armagh where he preached with the aim of abolishing paganism, idolatry and sun-worship.  He brought order and organisation to the church and wrote several books, notably ‘Confession’ in which he reviewed his life and work.  He remained conscious all his life of having been a slave and a fugitive who had learned to trust completely in God in order to live.

Patrick was a popular bishop and unfounded legends became attached to his name.  He was said to have explained the secret of the Holy Trinity to pagans by illustrating the idea of three in one with the three leaves of a shamrock.  It was also said that on his way back to Ireland he had carried an ash staff or stake to help him walk.  When he stopped to preach he would put the stake into the ground, not removing it until the people had grasped his message; this sometimes took so long that the stake had grown roots by the time he was ready to leave.  He was also said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland.

On this panel St Patrick is shown with his oddly-placed hands grasping the stake in his right and a book of his writings in his left.  Above him are two shamrocks.