St Patrick’s Breastplate – how the hymn saved his life
St Patrick’s Day is a major event for people of Irish heritage around the world. Each year, people celebrate with a few pints of Guinness and traditional Irish music.
The commercialisation of the festival in recent years has made it is easy to forget the real significance of the patron saint of Ireland, and the impact that he had on the country.
One popular hymn that is sung in churches today is St Patrick’s Breastplate. There is an incredible story behind the hymn, based on a key event in St Patrick’s life. It took place on May 1st 433AD when he began his march on Ireland.
In the video below, musician John Doan tells the story of how St Patrick “lit a fire that changed the course of history for the Irish people and perhaps all of western culture”. He describes the day’s events as a miracle.
It was on the day of the ancient Irish feast day of Beltane. The setting was the ancient Irish heritage site, the Hill of Tara. It was known as the seat of all kings, where King Leary was presiding over a great festival. People had flocked from miles around to witness great horse racing and celebrations.
The festivities could not begin until the lighting of the bonfire, which could only be done by the king himself.
Meanwhile, four miles away at the Hill of Slain, St Patrick had been given a message by the Holy Spirit, that he must commemorate the 400 year anniversary of Easter.
To mark this anniversary, St Patrick lit a fire with his small group of followers.
This fire was spotted by King Leary and his followers at the Hill of Tara. They couldn’t believe that anyone could be so bold. Two of King Leary’s high priests told him of a prophecy they had heard, that any fire lit before the king’s must be extinguished that night or else it would burn forever.
King Leary sent his soldiers to put out the fire and kill the person responsible for lighting it. St Patrick had nothing to protect him but a hymn.
He played his music and incredibly the king’s men were blocked in their path by a herd of wild deer. This gave St Patrick time to begin his march on Ireland and escape the king’s soldiers.
The event won St Patrick many new followers in Ireland, and even some senior Druid priests converted to Catholicism.
Watch the video below to hear John Doan tell the story, and then perform the hymn, which is now known as St Patrick’s Breastplate.