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The fifth century comes alive in this book

  • Jan 11, 2009
Biographies of people lost in legend and myth can be infuriating, and I was curious to see what could be inferred about St. Patrick from the thin material available. This little book turned out to be a happy surprise. Classics professor Philip Freeman bases Saint Patrick of Ireland on two extensive letters written by Patrick and on the known context of the times. It delivers everything it promises and is an absorbing read. (I actually listened to the audio--more on that later.)

This is not, I understand, the definitive St. Patrick, but it's a fascinating story of the man. He was born late in the fourth century to a well-off family in Roman Britain and kidnapped into slavery in Ireland at sixteen, finally escaping and making his way back to his family. He experienced a calling to bring the Christian message to pagan Ireland and returned to that land as its second bishop. The rest of his life was devoted to the Church and the Irish people.

Freeman writes informatively about the British corner of the Roman Empire, and in particular about Ireland. At no time does he misrepresent supposition as fact, and when he suggests that someone might have felt or behaved a certain way, or that a particular Christian legend may have its roots in a pagan theme or ritual, it's always plausible, respectful and well-reasoned. Much of what we THINK we know about Patrick is gently debunked.

Patrick's "Confession" and "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus" are presented at the end of the book. They provide a surprisingly vivid impression of the man, and with the added value of Freeman's context and wonderful writing style, we have a very satisfactory introduction to the life-and-times.

The audio presentation had the usual limitations: no access to the maps, charts, photos, diagrams, notes and bibliography. They were sorely missed in this case but Alan Sklar's reading is so fine that if you can get your hands on both the book and the CDs, you'll have the best possible experience. Even without seeing the supplemental material, I have no hesitation in giving five stars to this excellent and inspiring biography.

Linda Bulger, 2009

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review by . September 16, 2008
Slight but well-researched and -written biography of St. Patrick. The little reliable history and biography of St. Patrick is based on two surviving letters he wrote. But the amazing thing is he lived from approximately 390-360 AD, and his letters and what little we know about him are the earliest record of Christianity in that part of the world.    And forget St. Patrick's Day and four-leaf clovers and everything else you think you know about Patrick. His life was at once more …
review by . February 20, 2008
There certainly is a very large amount of information packed into a very small book (by comparison) here. This is an excellent work for those who have been curious, or are curious, about this famous Irish Saint, yet who are not so curious that they want to dig through a mind numbing academic work which would be better than xanax to provide a good nap. I am one of those people and I am one who greatly appreciated this work. In other areas of history, yes, I want something more in depth, but not on …
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Linda Bulger ()
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Born to an aristocratic British family in the fifth century, Patrick was kidnapped by slave raiders at age 15 and sold to an Irish farmer. After six years of tending sheep he escaped, walked 200 miles to a port city he had seen in a dream, and sailed for home. Years later, as a priest or bishop, he returned to Ireland. Bribing petty kings for safe passage through their rural domains, he preached, baptized and established churches in his beloved adopted land. This information about the saint's life is known from two lengthy letters he wrote late in life, both included in a lively translation by Freeman, a classics professor and author of three previous books about the Celtic world. Dismissing many familiar tales as myths, he relies on archeological discoveries as well as Greek and Roman writers to create a colorful picture of Ireland at the end of the Roman Empire: its kings and headhunting warriors, gods and human sacrifices, belief in the Otherworld. "I am a stranger and an exile living among barbarians and pagans, because God cares for them," Patrick wrote. Besides, time was running out: As Freeman observes, "The gospel had been preached throughout the world and was even then, by [Patrick's] own efforts, being spread to the most distant land of all. There was simply no reason for God's judgment to be delayed once the Irish had heard the good news." In the storytelling tradition of popular historian Thomas Cahill, this small book offers a ...
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ISBN-10: 0743256328
ISBN-13: 978-0743256322
Author: Philip Freeman
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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