St Patrick  (c. 390 – 17th March, c. 461): His Life, Times, and Legacy. Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh
(Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, University of Cambridge)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 17th March, 2018

Saint Patrick’s Memorial Church, Saul, County Down, a place with strong associations with St Patrick and may be his place of death. The place-name may derive from the Old Irish Sabhall Phádraig, ‘Barn of Patrick’, and the modern church stands on the site where Patrick himself is said to have held services (Image © Dr Fiona Edmonds).

As one of the most famous figures associated with Ireland, St Patrick has a special place in that country’s history, but also in the history of Britain, his birthplace, and continental Europe, where he received part of his education. Throughout the course of a day focussing on his life, times, and legacy, Patrick will provide a conduit through which we can also learn about the making of history and the construction of a particular kind of story.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          St Patrick’s World

The first session will provide context for St Patrick by assessing what we know of medieval Ireland and Britain in the early Middle Ages and how we know it. Sources for the period will be examined, and the connections between these islands and medieval Europe will be explored. By setting the scene within which St Patrick and his followers lived and laboured, we will be in a better position to examine his life, times, and legacy.

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:          The Making of a Saint

In this session we will focus on the various portrayals of Patrick from medieval times. His own fifth-century writings present a relatively humble man at some considerable distance from the more dramatic figure depicted in seventh-century Lives of the saint. Other texts provide a more nuanced picture. How these come together to form a composite Patrick will be explored and in particular how these various saintly images were used by kings and church alike to tell a certain story. The depiction of Patrick will be set alongside those of other saints to enable us to understand more fully the medieval genre of hagiography and saints’ cults.

12.40 – 13.45:          Lunch break

13.45 – 14.35:          Conversion Narratives

This session will provide an opportunity to read and respond to a variety of narratives concerning conversion ranging in date from the seventh century to the twelfth. Different depictions of pagans analysed in relation to what they tell us about how contemporary authors wished the picture of their past to be drawn. Translations will be provided and a flavour of contemporary literature will be conveyed.

14.35 – 14.55:          Tea break

14.55 – 15.45:          St Patrick: Influence and Legacy

The final session will address aspects of Patrick’s influence and legacy. Already in the medieval period, his portrayal and the narratives of conversion connected with him had an effect on how history was related and Ireland’s story was deemed to unfold. This process will be examined and more lasting elements of his legacy will be presented and related to the writing of Ireland’s history more generally.

15.45:                      Thanks and Close

About Máire Ní Mhaonaigh

Máire Ní Mhaonaigh is Professor of Celtic and Medieval Studies at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St John’s College. She has written widely on medieval Irish literature and history, in particular on connections between Ireland and Scandinavia, and the wider European world. Her most recent project is a collaborative study of conversion in Ireland, Britain and Scandinavia which has resulted in two volumes, Converting the Isles (co-edited with Roy Flechner and Nancy Edwards), published by Brepols in 2016 and 2017).

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading – an excellent website providing an introduction to Patrick, and access to the texts associated with him.

Thomas Charles-Edwards (ed.), After Rome c. 400 – c. 800, Short Oxford History of the British Isles (Oxford, 2003)

Thomas Charles-Edwards, St Patrick and the Landscape of Early Christian Ireland (Cambridge, 2012)

David N. Dumville and others, St Patrick, A.D. 493-1993 (Woodbridge, 1993)

Charles Doherty, ‘The cult of St Patrick and the politics of Armagh in the seventh century’, in Ireland and Northern France, AD 600-850 AD, ed. Jean-Michel Picard (Dublin, 1991), pp. 53-94

Colmán Etchingham, ‘Bishops, Church and People: How Christian was ‘Early Christian Ireland’?’, in L’irlanda e gli irlandesi nell’alto medioevo: settimane di studio della Fondazione centro italiano di stud sull’ alto medioevo LVII, Spoleto 16-21 aprile 2009 (Spoleto, 2010), ppp. 325-51

Roy Flechner ad Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (eds), The Introduction of Christianity in the Early Medieval Insular World (Turnhout, 2016) [essays by Colmán Etchingham and Thomas Charles-Edwards focus specifically on St Patrick; others explore conversion in Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia more generally]

Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law (Dublin, 1998), pp. 1-27 [introduction to early Irish society]

Thomas O’Loughlin, St Patrick: the Man and his Works (London, 1999)

Jane Stevenson, ‘Literacy in Ireland: the evidence of the Patrick dossier in the Book of Armagh’, in The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe, ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 11-35