St. Patrick, (flourished 5th century, Britain and Ireland; feast day March 17), patron saint and national apostle of Ireland, credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and probably responsible in part for the Christianization of the Picts and Anglo-Saxons. He is known only from two short works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Letter to Coroticus, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.
Patrick was born in Britain of a Romanized family. At age 16 he was torn by Irish raiders from the villa of his father, Calpurnius, a deacon and minor local official, and carried into slavery in Ireland. He spent six bleak years there as a herdsman, during which he turned with fervour to his faith. Upon dreaming that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family. Thereafter, he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.
The best known passage in the Confessio tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the shortcomings of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to respond to the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation for Ireland he was beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanished. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion, he was cast into chains. On another, he addressed with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who had been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.