The Charter of St. Patrick


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The Charter of St. Patrick
A tradition exists which places St Patrick at Glastonbury Abbey sometime in the early parts of the fifth century. Whether this document is the cause of that tradition or an outgrowth of it, is uncertain. In any case, this clever piece of work purports to tell the story, in Patrick's own modest words, of his arrival at the famous religious center and his unwilling elevation to its headship.

The document mentions the second century saints, Phagan and Deruvian, and hints that the construction of the "Old Church" on the abbey grounds dated back, even farther, to the apostolic era. It goes on to mention the names of the "brothers" Patrick found there and tells the story of the discovery of an ancient chapel atop Glastonbury Tor containing an ancient document within. It tells of visions of Christ and contains promises of special "indulgence" for pilgrims.

The exact purpose of the Charter of St Patrick is not entirely clear, although at the time it was believed to be written (late 13th century), the good monks of Glastonbury were attempting to elevate the image of their abbey on the basis of its antiquity. At this time, also, was beginning the development of the legend of St. Joseph of Arimathea (an almost unsurpassable name in the medieval "antiquity" sweepstakes, dating to AD 63).

The idea was that the farther back one could trace one's lineage, the more pre-eminent one (or one's abbey) became, as a result. If the proof of one's pedigree didn't fall immediately to hand, then one had to find it. . .or create it. Perhaps the Charter of St. Patrick was the first of many attempts to do this.

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In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Patrick, the humble servant of God, in the year of His Incarnation 430, was sent into Ireland by the most holy Pope Celestine, and by God's grace converted the Irish to the way of truth; and, when I had established them in the Catholic faith, at length I returned to Britain, and, as I believe, by the guidance of God, who is the life and the way, I chanced upon the isle of Ynsgytrin, wherein I found a place holy and ancient, chosen and sanctified by God in honour of Mary the pure Virgin, the Mother of God: and there I found certain brethren imbued with the rudiments of the Catholic faith, and of pious conversation, who were successors of the disciples of St Phagan and St Deruvian, whose names for the merit of their lives I verily believe are written in heaven: and because the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, since tenderly I loved those brethren, I have thought good to record their names in this my writing.

And they are these: Brumban, Hyregaan, Brenwal, Wencreth, Bamtonmeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hin Loernius, and another Hin. These men, being of noble birth and wishing to crown their nobleness with deeds of faith, had chosen to lead a bermit's life ; and when I found them meek and gentle, I chose to be in low estate with them, rather than to dwell in kings' palaces. And since we were all of one heart and one mind, we chose to dwell together, and eat and drink in common, and sleep in the same house.

And so they set me, though unwilling, at their head: for indeed I was not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. And, when we were thus leading the monastic life according to the pattern of the approved fathers, the brothers showed me writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St Philip and St James had built that Old Church in honour of our Patroness aforesaid, instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel.

And further, that the Lord from heaven had dedicated that same church in honour of His Mother: and that to those twelve, three pagan kings had granted, for their sustenance, twelve portions of land. Moreover in more recent writings I found that St Phagan and St Deruvian had obtained from Pope Eleutherius, who had sent them, ten years of indulgence. And I, brother Patrick, in my time obtained twelve years from Pope Celestine of pious memory.

Now after some time had passed I took with me my brother Wellias and with great difficulty we climbed up through the dense wood to the summit of the mount, which stands forth in that island (Glastonbury Tor, ed.). And when we were come there we saw an ancient oratory, well-nigh ruined, yet fitting for Christian devotion and, as it appeared to me, chosen by God. And when we entered therein we were filled with so sweet an odour that we believed ourselves to be set in the beauty of Paradise. So then we went out and went in again, and searched the whole place diligently; and we found a volume in which were written Acts of Apostles along with Acts and Deeds of St Phagan and St Deruvian. It was in great part destroyed, but at the end thereof, we found a writing which said that St Phagan and St Deruvian, by revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. had built that oratory in honour of St Michael the archangel, that he should have honour there from men, who at God's bidding was to introduce men to everlasting honour.

And since that writing pleased us much, we sought to read it to the end. For that same writing said that the venerable Phagan and Deruvian abode there for nine years, and that they had also obtained indulgence of thirty years for all Christian folk who visit that place, with pious intent, for the honour of the blessed Michael. Having found therefore this great treasure of divine goodness, I and brother Wellias fasted three months, engaged in prayer and watching, and controlling the demons and beasts that in divers forms appeared. And on a certain night, when I had given myself to sleep, the Lord Jesus appeared to me in a vision, saying Patrick, my servant, know that I have chosen this place to the honour of My name, and that here men should honorably invoke the aid of My archangel Michael. And this shall be a sign to thee, and to thy brethren, that they also may believe: thy left arm shall wither, till thou has told what thou hast seen to thy brethren which are in the cell below, and art come hither again. And so it came to pass. From that day we appointed that two brethren should be there continually, unless the pastors in the future should for just cause determine otherwise.

Now to Arnulf and Ogmar, Irish brethren who had come with me from Ireland, because at my request they were the first to make their humble dwelling at that oratory, I have entrusted this present writing, keeping another like unto it in the ark of St Mary as a memorial for those who shall come after. And I Patrick, by counsel of my brethren, concede a hundred days of pardon to all who shall, with pious intent, cut down with axe and hatchet the wood on every side of the mount aforesaid, that there may be an easier approach for Christian men who shall make pious visit to the church of the Blessed Ever-Virgin.

That these things were truly so, we have proved by the testimony of a very ancient writing, as well as by the narratives of elder men. And so this saint aforesaid, who is the Apostle of the Irish and the first abbot in the Isle of Avalon, after he had duly instructed these brethren in rule and discipline, and had sufficiently enriched that place with lands and possessions by the gift of kings and princes, when some years were past yielded to nature, and had his rightful burial, by the showing of an angel, and by the flashing from the spot of a great flame in sight of all who were there present, in the Old Church on the right hand of the altar.



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