Seeking the Saint: In Search of Saint Patrick

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Just a very quick post from my vacation in Ireland this week to share a sensation that won’t leave me tonight until I blog it out of my system.

For those who don’t already know, I am enjoying Spring Break with my husband and son this week in Dublin. We decided to focus on staying in the city since our Adam plays traditional Irish music and wants to hit several “open sessions” of trad music around town. So the theme of the vacation seems to have been “pubs, pints, and parishes”. We have seen plenty of all three.

Since I’m at work on a children’s book that involves the life of Ireland’s own St. Patrick, I’ve been doing a bit of research while we’re here. Nothing too serious, mind you, but enough to get a better sense of what one of my favorite patrons means to his adopted homeland. Our arrival in Dublin comes not only during Lent, but also the week after St. Patrick’s day. So most of what I’ve seen here related to the “saint” are marked down clearance t-shirts, left over from last week’s binge.

Today, I ventured into Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, situated on the site where St. Patrick is said to have baptized the Irish as he passed through Dublin. This video from the Cathedral’s website offers an overview of the significance of the saint:

I must share that the image which most captured my heart today was a small bronze by Melanie le Brocquy which sat quietly near the North Aisle of the Cathedral. Something about the ruddy simplicity of this bronze captured my heart today. Doing my research tonight, I’ve learned that I am not alone as a listing for a recast of the original bears this description:

St Patrick Overthrowing Crom Cruach Bronze by Melanie Le Brocquy

An article on Irish Sculpture by Arthur Power where the piece is well reviewed, p 8 (see below), illustrated; ”The Irish Times”, March 2001, Re: Work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; ”Collector’s Eye” 2004 Exhibition Catalogue, illustrated p20 When reviewing Melanie’s joint show with Louis the Dublin Evening Mail, (Dec. 19th, 1942), mentions that ”St. Patrick” has been much discussed and is believed to be the first representation of our national saint in the kind of garb he probably wore and not the vestments and paraphernalia invented centuries after his death as is usually his fate”. Melanie consulted the Rev. Myles Ronan before designing the statue and learned from him details of the costume being the seamless Roman cloak and that he would have been clean shaven and round-tonsured. Stephen Rynne’s review in The Leader of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (25/9/43) was ”why on earth does not someone buy and erect on a gigantic scale her terrific St. Patrick?”. The Irish Art Handbook was also published in 1943 where in an article on Irish sculpture Arthur Power wrote, ”Among other young sculptors we come to Miss Le Brocquy, who has shown great taste and flair in the work she has done. There is her St. Patrick, an arresting work, but not showing the conventional St. Patrick so loved by Irish sculptors a portly gentleman wearing his mitre and robes, and grasping his crozier, as balanced somewhat insecurely on the summit of Croagh Patrick? He was rather the man, the saint, of Miss Le Brocquy’s conception; dynamic, tenacious, and able to outcast the Druidic spells with greater Christian spells; a man of force and mystery who could convince and transform a wayward nation. It was not done by mitres and robes; but dressed and working as Miss Le Brocquy has shown him”.

The more time I spend during this quick little jaunt in St. Patrick’s adopted homeland, the less patience I have for the traditional holy card portraits we have of this man. Something about the mud and muck, the wind and the rain that comes and goes at its own will, and the nature of the Irish themselves leaves me doubting that he would have ever donned fancy green vestments and carried a crosier of gold. And don’t even get me started about those snakes…

Perhaps my longing for a deeper connection with Patrick came from the fact that St. Patrick’s Cathedral was largely devoid today of worshippers. As the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland (a church of the Anglican communion), St. Patrick’s freely welcomes worshippers but charges a fee for admission. As a result, I had the place largely to myself during my late afternoon visit. It felt like a place of great sanctity, but for some reason (which I think I know but won’t expound upon here) not like “home”. As I sat quietly during the final moments of my visit praying for reconciliation between denominations and peoples around the world, I pondered the impact of this man who had lead so many to Jesus Christ. Somehow, I think he would have avoided seeing every sight in that sanctuary and would instead have sat silently talking to God, praying for his brothers and sisters. So that’s how I chose to spend much of my time visiting his cathedral.

My search for the saint continues tomorrow with a visit to Belfast and Downpatrick.

St. Patrick, Patron of Ireland, pray for us!

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  • That’s a lovely statue indeed. I feel the same way about the holy card images. When I was in Dublin I didn’t go into St Patrick’s Cathedral; but now I rather wish I had if only to see that.

  • Ah yes, I remember my days in the seisuins in the Gaeltacht. There’s nothing we loved more than an American kid coming in to play the tunes.