Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2021 / 11:04 am
Among the most popular saints today, Saint Patrick was a bishop and missionary to Ireland. However, he also spent several years as a slave, and once issued a heartfelt plea on behalf of girls and boys abducted into slavery.
In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, St. Patrick intended to shame the fifth-century general whose raiding soldiers the saint declared to be “blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.” He denounced those who “divide out defenseless baptized women like prizes.”
Patrick said he did not know what grieved him more: those who were slain, those who were captured, or the enslavers themselves – “those whom the devil so deeply ensnared.”
The plea is all the more poignant because St. Patrick was himself a former slave. In his letter he wrote that Irish raiders once took him captive and slaughtered the men and women servants of his father’s household.
“He would have known acutely what these slaves were going through, because he was the victim of just such a raid,” said Jennifer Paxton, a history professor who teaches at The Catholic University of America’s Irish Studies program.
“In the fifth century this kind of raiding was endemic, all around the British Isles. He was stolen from someplace, we’re not sure where, in western Britain, and taken to captivity in Ireland.”
He spent six years tending sheep for his master.
“Obviously he did not enjoy his time as a slave and wanted it to end,” Paxton told CNA. “So he would have definitely identified with these victims.”