Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

St Patrick - the man, the saint, the legend, the image

Watching the livestream Mass for the Feast of St Patrick from the Oxford Oratory this evening I was struck by the excellent homily from Fr Oliver which quoted extensively from the Confessio of St Patrick. This quite short text, and that of the saint’s Letter to Coroticus is available in various editions, sometimes with other relevant texts on his life. A quick viewing of the Amazon website gives an idea of the range of modern translations. 

There is scholarly debate about the texts and the extent of their accuracy, and how they might be understood. This is set out very well in the excellent Wikipedia account of the saint which can be seen at Saint Patrick and is very well worth reading.

Both the original texts, however interpreted, and in online accounts such as that, or full academic studies, help rescue the real St Patrick from the archetypical image of him in later medieval green episcopal vestments, frequently holding a shamrock and often looking as though moulded in marzipan. At its worst he resembled a green clad Santa Claus.

Whatever the details of his upbringing, captivity, formation and mission Patricius emerges from the historic sources as a tough man, physically and spiritually tough, aware of his shortcomings but determined to fulfill his calling. Taming him as has happened in much of his iconography and presentation in the last two centuries denies him his genuine abilities and achievements. 

St Patrick, Pray for Ireland, Pray for us

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