Forget leprechauns and banshees … here’s your St. Patrick’s Day adventure!
Fortunatus, we are told, had heard in his travels of how two days’ journey from the town, Valdric, in Ireland, was a town, Vernic, where was the entrance to the Purgatory; so thither he went with many servants. He found a great abbey, and behind the altar of the church a door, which led into the dark cave which is called the Purgatory of S. Patrick. In order to enter it, leave had to be obtained from the abbot; consequently, Leopold, servant to Fortunatus, betook himself to that worthy, and made known to him that a nobleman from Cyprus desired to enter the mysterious cavern. The abbot at once requested Leopold to bring his master to supper with him. Fortunatus bought a large jar of wine, and sent it as a present to the monastery, and followed at the meal time.
“Venerable sir!” said Fortunatus, “I understand the Purgatory of S. Patrick is here; is it so?”
The abbot replied, ” It is so indeed. Many hundred years ago, this place, where stand the abbey and the town, was a howling wilderness. Not far off, however, lived a venerable hermit, Patrick by name, who often sought the desert for the purpose of therein exercising his austerities. One day he lighted on this cave, which is of vast extent. He entered it, and wandering on in the dark, lost his way, so that he could no more find how to return to the light of day. After long ramblings through the gloomy passages, he fell on his knees, and besought Almighty God, if it were His will, to deliver him from the great peril wherein he lay. Whilst Patrick thus prayed, he was ware of piteous cries issuing from the depths of the cave, just such as would be the wailings of souls in purgatory. The hermit rose from his orison, and by God’s mercy found his way back to the surface, and from that day exercised greater austerities, and after his death he was numbered with the saints. Pious people, who had heard the story of Patrick’s adventure in the cave, built this cloister on the site.”
Then Fortunatus asked whether all who ventured into the place heard likewise the howls of the tormented souls. The abbot replied, ” Some have affirmed that they have heard a bitter crying and piping therein whilst others have heard and seen nothing. None, however, has penetrated, as yet, to the furthest limits of the cavern.”
(From Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious myths of the Middle Ages)
Via Wikipedia, here is a map of Station Island. Click to Embiggen. “Caverna Purgatory,” noted between the two large buildings, denotes the site of the cave.
St. Patrick features rather prominently in my book, Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity: The poor pilgrim’s almanack. Some excerpts follow below in italics. He was a very important saint, and had several hagiographies written on his life and miracles. Unsurprisingly many different places claimed to house his remains or other relics important to him. The disputes began right after he died:
In cases of disputes about the proper home of a relic, ordeals might be held to settle them. After the death of St. Patrick, the churches of Saul and Armagh both claimed his body. To settle the dispute, two untamed bulls were yoked to the cart which bore his body and left to go where they would. They stopped at the spot where the church of Downpatrick was built and Patrick buried.
(From the chapter “Furta sacra” (holy theft))
Here are three pilgrimage sites in Ireland from the chapter “Whither Pilgrim”?
St. Patrick’s tomb
Location: Downpatrick, Ireland
Miracles: Sticks to Snakes, Snake Charm, Speak with the Dead, Dispel Magic
Downpatrick is the most likely of the several claimants to St. Patrick’s tomb; he is also said to be buried with St. Briget and St. Columba. When Downpatrick wasn’t being looted and burned by Vikings (as happened at least seven times), it was one of Ireland’s most popular pilgrimage spots. But since most of Ireland was usually being looted and burned by invaders anyway, it was still a top attraction even in the “off season”.
Croagh Patrick (Mount Patrick, also called The Reek)
Location: County Mayo, Ireland
Miracles: Dispel Magic, Silence 15’ Radius
This was a pagan pilgrimage site for the summer solstice for thousands of years. But as a Christian site, it is said to be where the Saint fasted for 40 days. The best time to visit was the last Sunday in July (Reek Sunday), when the pious celebrated the time Patrick killed a witch by repelling her spell back onto her. Pilgrims, usually barefoot, circle the mount clockwise seven times saying seven prayers.
St. Patrick’s Purgatory
Location: Lough Derg (a lake island, also called Station Island)
Miracles: Detect Magic, True Seeing, Plane Shift, Speak with Monsters, Resist Fire
Restrictions: Visitors must convince the shrine keepers to unlock the door over the cave, and then spend a night inside. They will face various demons and devils inside.
Supposedly the cave was created when Patrick asked for a visual aid to convince sinners of the reality of Hell.
He also has a tomb in England:
Location: Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Miracles: Holy Word, Commune
Restrictions: Must approach with peas in shoes (-2 to Dex for a week afterward); possibly guarded by fairies or knights
This mound was the site of an ancient monastery, but in the 12th century, in legend it grew into “ground-zero” of Christianity on England. So in 63 CE, Joseph of Arimathea arrived with the Grail. The Chalice Well provides healing waters. His staff grew into a hawthorn tree — the Holy Thorn Tree or Glastonbury Thorn. The Thorn blooms every Christmas. Many minor saints, as well as King Arthur, Guinevere, and St. Patrick are said to be buried here, and Christ spent some of his missing years here, building a church.
Pilgrims used to walk the 512-foot-high Glastonbury Tor with peas lining their shoes for penance.
The tor or hill also has pagan associations (as a fairy mound and entrance to the Otherworld, and abode of the king of the fairies) and later with the Arthur legends (the tor is known was the Isle of Avalon to the Britons and the final resting place of King Arthur).
“Appendix I: an index of saints, spells, and relics” mentions a few more spots to visit if you need some relics of St. Patrick.
St. Patrick (Snake Charm, Dispel Magic, Speak with Dead, Snakes to Sticks) [crosier, tooth, and bell: Dublin; lower jaw: Derriaghy]
This appendix lists nearly 200 saints and Biblical figures with miracles associated with them. Each entry in Appendix I follows the format: Name (Miracles) [relics: places], so every miracle associated with a given saint is in one place, and any relics of the saint not mentioned in “Whiter Pilgrim?” are also indicated. These matter because the book also gives a couple of systems whereby clerical magic requires either relics for casting, or pilgrimages for learning, spells. Off to fight the snake cult? Better stop by St Patrick’s tomb to learn Snake Charm, or possibly swipe one of his bones to take with you.