November 28, 2008

County Wicklow: St. Patrick's Flame

We headed out after our lunch to the Hill of Slane, made famous by Saint Patrick. The hill affords all visitors a fabulous view; one can see the passage tombs at Knowth and Newgrange as well as the nearby Hill of Tara.

Each year, the pagan kings of Tara met to celebrate the Festival of Easter (spring equinox). They lit a large fire as part of their celebration; the law was that no other fire was to be lit within a certain (visible) distance upon penalty of death.

The story goes that Saint Patrick lit a fire in defiance of the pagan celebrations. The high king of Tara could see his fire and sent sentries to take Patrick into custody.

At this point, the stories differ. Some say that Patrick was simply able to talk his way out of being killed or imprisoned. Others state that the high king challenged Patrick to a contest in order to prove that his gods were more powerful than Patrick's Christian God.

In that version there were three challenges between Patrick and his bible and the king's magician and (I assume) his spell book. The first was to place their book in water; whichever survived undamaged won. Patrick was willing; the magician was not.

The second challenge was to place their books into fire; whichever survived won. Again, Patrick was willing and the magician was not.

Patrick's faith impressed the king enough that although he disagreed with Patrick's beliefs, he did allow him free reign, so to speak, within the country. This enabled Patrick to travel all over Ireland, bringing Christianity to those he met.

On the hill, where all of this supposedly occurred, there are now ruins of Saint Patrick's church, complete with bell tower, as well as those of a Franciscan Monastery.

It is said that one can still climb the bell tower to get a good look of the surrounding area, but Rocket Man and I were not so brave as to climb so high in the ruins. Our next stop was the Hill of Tara, which I will show you tomorrow.

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