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St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography by…
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St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

by Philip Freeman

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St. Patrick wrote two letters that we know of. Neither of the originals has survived, but seven copies have been preserved. Since they were copied by hand, mistakes crept in, so they are not exactly the same. Whatever the form, though, they give us a glimpse of the man we celebrate on March 17 each year. It is from these two letters, "Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus" and "Confession" that Philip Freeman builds his biography of St. Patrick.

There isn't much that can be said definitively about Patrick's life, but there is much that can be surmised from the context of history. The method Philp Freeman uses to write this biography is to take that context and use it to try to fill in the blanks of a life only outlined by the remnants of two letters. It is an excellent exmple of critical reading, looking at each passage of the letters to see what it can tell us about the person who wrote it.

This book takes us on a journey through history, from the Roman Empire and its incursion into Britain, to the culture and history of Ireland. Freeman says, "We need to look back to a world completely foreign to us..." using "...Irish law, ancient literature, and Celtic mythology to recreate the culture in which he [Patrick] lived and worked." Freeman does this very well. Additionally, he examines the legends, traditions and myths regarding St. Patrick.

While this is a book of histroy, it is not heavy reading. It does not have footnotes or a bibliography, but does include a brief timeline from the founding of Rome through the first biographies of St. Patrick. It also includes suggested further readings regarding the topics presented in each chapter, if a person wants to know more about a particular subject. Translations of both of St. Patrick's letters are also included.

Philip Freeman has a PhD in Classical Philology and Celtic Studies from Harvard University. At the time of publication of this book, he was a professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
1 vote Deb85 | Mar 12, 2011 |
No nonsense straight forward handling based on primary and secondary source documents. It takes away the folklore, and discovers a real man...a real Christian...underneath. ( )
  SileoIHS | Apr 19, 2010 |
A lovely exploration of the life of St. Patrick. Imaginative, with fact-based reconstructions of significant events. Paints an altogether human portrait of the man. Utterly readable. ( )
  Laurenbdavis | Apr 29, 2009 |
I had no idea that there was so much documentation on this household name. As the Amazon reviewers, Swho praised it, wrote, the author sticks with fact, does not wander off into speculation.
  carterchristian1 | Jan 17, 2009 |
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 this particular subject. It is written in a scholarly manner, appears to be very well researched, yet I found not one page that I did not learn something from nor one page that caused my eyes to roll back into my head and wish the author would just get on with it. It was a good and informative read.

I certainly am not going to rewrite the entire work in this form and call it a review. That has already been done. For greater detail refer to one of the well done and very in depth reviews already posted here. What I found most interesting about the book was the author’s ability to paint a very vivid picture of the cultural and religious clash that too place in Ireland during St. Patrick’s time. I enjoyed the brief look at the state of the Christian Church at that time and how it affected the people of that time. That story, to me, was just as fascinating as the one told by the author of the Great Saint himself. The brief look at the Celtic religious practices and beliefs was excellent. I also appreciated the author’s ability to separate fact from all the fiction that has been dished out for years and years and do it in a nonoffensive way. This was quite refreshing. The author is quite careful to note fact from fiction, speculation from written and archeological fact. This was most helpful.

The author has a wonderful popular history style, yet writes in a mode that does not insult your credulity nor does Freeman sensationalize events simply to hold the reader’s interest. The facts alone, and the way the author presents them, are enough to keep you turning the pages on this one. The black and white maps provided are quite helpful as is the “dictionary” and foot noting. I enjoyed the translation of the two surviving letters of St. Patrick’s “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus” and the “Confession.” Both are a nice touch and added much to the value of the book.

A work such as this, where so much has been lost down through the years is not an easy thing to write, but this author, Philip Freeman has done an excellent job. Now there are books out there that go into much greater depth on the subject of this obviously great man and I certainly would recommend further reading for those who are interested or who want to become experts on the subject. For myself, this work fit my needs perfectly. I wanted to know a bit about the man and I certainly learned it here.

Recommend this one highly.

Don Blankenship ( )
1 vote theancientreader | Jan 5, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743256328, Hardcover)

Ireland's patron saint has long been shrouded in legend: he drove the snakes out of Ireland; he triumphed over Druids and their supernatural powers; he used a shamrock to explain the Christian mystery of the Trinity. But his true story is more fascinating than the myths. We have no surviving image of Patrick, but we do have two remarkable letters that he wrote about himself and his beliefs -- letters that tell us more about the heart and soul of this man than we know about almost any of his contemporaries. In St. Patrick of Ireland Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world vividly to life.

Born in Britain late in the fourth century to an aristocratic family, Patrick was raised as a Roman citizen and a nominal Christian, destined for the privileged life of the nobility. But just before his sixteenth birthday, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and abducted to Ireland, where he spent six lonely years as a slave, tending sheep. Trapped in a foreign land, despondent, and at the mercy of his master, Patrick's ordeal turned him from an atheist to a true believer. After a vision in which God told him he would go home, Patrick escaped captivity and, following a perilous journey, returned to his astonished parents. Even more astonishing was his announcement that he intended to go back to Ireland and devote the rest of his life to ministering to the people who had once enslaved him.

One of Patrick's two surviving letters is a declaration written to jealous British bishops in defense of his activities in Ireland; the other is a stinging condemnation of a ruthless warlord who attacked and killed some of Patrick's Irish followers. Both are powerful statements remarkable for their passion and candor. Freeman includes them in full in new translations of his own.

Combining Patrick's own heartfelt account of his life as he revealed it himself with the turbulent history of the British Isles in the last years of the Roman Empire, St. Patrick of Ireland brilliantly brings to life the real Patrick, shorn of legend, and shows how he helped to change Irish history and culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:37 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Ireland's patron saint has long been shrouded in legend: he drove the snakes out of Ireland; he triumphed over Druids and their supernatural powers; he used a shamrock to explain the Christian mystery of the Trinity. But his true story is more fascinating than the myths. We have no surviving image of Patrick, but we do have two letters that he wrote about himself and his beliefs--letters that tell us more about the heart and soul of this man than we know about almost any of his contemporaries. In St. Patrick of Ireland Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world to life. Born in Britain late in the fourth century to an aristocratic family, Patrick was raised as a Roman citizen and a nominal Christian, destined for the privileged life of the nobility. But just before his sixteenth birthday, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and abducted to Ireland, where he spent six lonely years as a slave, tending sheep. Trapped in a foreign land, despondent, and at the mercy of his master, Patrick's ordeal turned him from an atheist to a true believer. After a vision in which God told him he would go home, Patrick escaped captivity and, following a perilous journey, returned to his astonished parents. Even more astonishing was his announcement that he intended to go back to Ireland and devote the rest of his life to ministering to the people who had once enslaved him. One of Patrick's two surviving letters is a declaration written to jealous British bishops in defense of his activities in Ireland; the other is a stinging condemnation of a ruthless warlord who attacked and killed some of Patrick's Irish followers. Both are powerful statements remarkable for their passion and candor. Freeman includes them in full in new translations of his own. Combining Patrick's own heartfelt account of his life as he revealed it himself with the turbulent history of the British Isles in the last years of the Roman Empire, St. Patrick of Ireland brilliantly brings to life the real Patrick, shorn of legend, and shows how he helped to change Irish history and culture.… (more)

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