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The legends and myths that shroud the identity of the man who converted the Irish to Christianity are not easily dispelled. However, this book tries mightily to winnow out the inaccuracies by sticking to the two extant works of St. Patrick, the Epistles to the Soldiers of Coroticus and the Confession. You may not know for certain if he drove the snakes from the Emerald Isle, but scrupulous scholarship and an archeological-like reconstruction of the times give you a good grasp of his reality. That a man born in Britain at the edge of the Roman Empire would survive as a historical figure of great stature when most, if not all, of his contemporaries are lost to us forever is itself miraculous. Part of the reason is that we have his writings--strange, awkward and poorly written in a vulgar Latin, but nonetheless alive with all the passion and commitment of this energetic man. His own words are what help to define him and to allow Thompson to make shrewd guesses at what we don't know about gaps in his life. The place of Patrick's birth, his kidnapping and slavery, his escape and return to his home in England, all this and more are reconstructed. However, the person of Palladius causes difficulty in the St. Patrick story. He was appointed Bishop of Ireland by the Pope before St. Patrick's mission. This has prompted a great deal of speculation even to the point of claiming the existence of two Saint Patricks, one Palladius, the other the popular Saint. Sorting out 1500 years of mystery shrouded in fancy is Thompson's job and he goes at it with a line-by-line analysis of the Saint's work. It is an admirable exegesis, but often hard on the ordinary reader. Still, it will reward most with its picture of a doughty, determined man whose insecurities are all too human. This St. Patrick is a man the author likes, and makes us like as well.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's