St. Palladius of Ireland, Bishop
The chronicle of the contemporary St. Prosper of Aquitaine present two important entries relating to Palladius. Under date of 429 it has,
Agricola, a Pelagian, son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, corrupted the churches of Britain by the insinuation of his doctrine; but at the insistence of the Deacon Palladius (ad actionem Palladii Diaconi), Celestine sent Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre as his representative to root out heresy and direct the Britons to the Catholic Faith.
Again under the date of 431, in the consulship of Bassus and Antiocus:
Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine and sent to the Scots believing in Christ, as their first bishop (Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur).
In his work against Cassian, St. Prosper compendiates both entries:
Wherefore the Pontiff Celestine of venerable memory, to whom the Lord gave many gifts for safeguarding the Catholic Church, knowing that for those who are already condemned, the remedy to be applied is not a further judicial inquiry but only repentance, gave instructions for Celestius, who asked for a further hearing in a matter already settled, to be driven from the borders of all Italy . . . with no less jealous care he delivered Britain from the same disease, when he drove even from that hidden recess of the ocean some enemies of Grace who were settling in their native soil; and by ordaining a bishop for the Irish (Scoti), whilst he laboured to keep the Roman Island Catholic, he made also the barbarous Island Christian. The words of the second entry to the chronicle,
to the Scots believing in Christ can only have the meaning that when the chronicle was being written in 447, the Irish had become a Christian people.
Some writers with Dr. Todd regard Palladius as deacon of St. Germanus, but it appears more probable that he held the high rank of Deacon of Rome; it can hardly be supposed that a deacon of Auxerre would exercise such influence in Rome as that assigned to Palladius, and it is in accordance with St. Prosper’s usage to indicate the Roman deacon by the simple title diaconus. Thus in the chronicle we have frequent entries such as
Leo Diaconus, which invariably refer to the deacons of Rome. The seventh century life of St. Patrick by Muircu Maccumachthenus in the Book of Armaugh expressly styles Palladius
Archidiaconus Pap? Coelestini urbis Rom? Episcopi, repeated in several of the other lives of St. Patrick.
Ussher registers the tradition long current in England that Palladius was born in Britain and that he had combatted the Pelagian heresy there. The Bollandists are also of the opinion that he was
a Briton by birth. The Palladii, however, were reckoned among the noblest families of France and several of them held high rank about this time in the Church of Gaul. These conflicting opinions may perhaps be reconciled. Under Julius the Apostate there was a Palladius holding prominent rank in the army of Gaul, who, for his fearless profession of the Faith, was exiled into Britain. We may easily suppose that the scion of such a privileged Gaulo-British family would attain the position of Deacon of Rome, would take much interest in the British Church, and, would by his familiarity with the Celtic language, be qualified to undertake the mission of the first bishop to the Irish. Palladius is honoured by the Scottish calendar on 6 July. The Aberdeen Breviary describes him as
pontificem et fidei Catholic? apostolum pariter et doctorem. In some ancient records he is styled a martyr, probably because of the hardships endured during his missionary career in Ireland.
Palladius landed in the territory of the Hy-Garchon, on the strand where the town of Wicklow now stands, then occupied by the tribe of Cualann who have left their name on the beautiful valley of Glencullen, seven miles distant from the spot where Palladius landed. The chieftain of the district had no welcome for the missionaries. However, some of the tribe appear to have extended a better measure of kindness to them and at least three churches were in after times assigned as a result of Palladius’s mission.
The Life of St. Patrick, already referred to, records the failure of the mission:
Palladius was ordained and sent to covert this land lying under wintry cold, but God hindered him, for no man can receive anything from earth unless it be given to him from heaven; and neither did those fierce and cruel men receive his doctrine readily, nor did he himself wish to spend time in a strange land, but returned to him who sent him. On his return hence, however, having crossed the first sea and commenced his land journey, he died in the territory of the Britons.
In the Scholia on St. Fiace’s Hymn in the ancient Liber Hymnorum, it is stated that in the country of the Hy-Garchon, Palladius
founded some churches: Teach-na-Roman, or the House of the Romans, Kill-Fine, and others. Nevertheless he was not well received, but was forced to go round the coast of Ireland towards the north, until driven by a tempest he reached the extreme part of Mohaidh towards the south, where he founded the church of Fordun, and Pledi is his name there.
The Vita Secunda, Life of St. Patrick in Colgan’s collection, adds further interesting details:
The most blessed Pope Celestine ordained Bishop the Archdeacon of the Roman Church, named Palladius, and sent him to the Island of Hibernia, after having committed to him the relics of Blessed Peter and Paul and other Saints, and having also given him the volumes of the Old and New Testament. Palladius, entering the land of the Irish, arrived at the territory of the men of Leinster where Nathi Mac Garchon was chief, who was opposed to him. Others, however, whom the Divine mercy had disposed toward the worship of God, having been baptized in the name of the sacred Trinity, the blessed Palladius built three churches in the same district; one, which is called Cellfine, in which even to the present day, he left his books which he had received from St. Celestine, and the box of relics of blessed Peter and Paul and other Saints, and the tablets on which he used to write, which in the Irish language are called from his name Pallere, that is, the burden of Palladius, and are held in veneration. Another, Tech-na-Roman, and the third, Domnach Arcdec, in which are buried the holy men of the companions of Palladius, Sylvester and Sallonius, who are honoured there. After a short time Palladius died in the plain of Girgin in a place which is now called Fordun. but others say that he was crowned with martyrdom there.
Another ancient document, known as the Vita Quinta in Colgan’s work, repeats the particulars given here relating to the foundation of three churches, and adds:
But St. Palladius, seeing that he could not do much good there, wishing to return to Rome, migrated to the Lord in the region of the Picts. Others, however, say that he was crowned with martyrdom in Ireland.
The three churches have been identified. Teach-na-Roman is Tigroney, where are the ruins of an old church in the parish of Castle Mac Adam in the county of Wicklow. Kill-Fine was supposed by Father Shearman to be the same as Killeen Cormac, a remarkable old churchyard, three miles south-west of Dunlavin, but more probably situated in the parish of Glendalough, in the townland which the Ordnance Survey has named Lara-West, but which is still called Killfinn by the people. The third church Domnec Ardec is Donard which gives its name to a parish and village in the west of the County Wicklow in the barony of Lower Talbotstown. This parish, as Father Shearman writes, retains
some vestiges of its ancient importance: the sites of primeval Christian churches, large and well-preserved Raths and Timuli, Cromlechs, Ogham Pillars, ancient ecclesiastical Cahels, pagan Cathairs on the surrounding hills, with many other evidences of a civilized and numerous population.
The modern critical Scottish historians, Bishop Forbes, Skein, and others, confess that in regard to the connection of St. Palladius with Scotland, the Irish documents are the only reliable sources. The traditions set forth in Fordun’s chronicle and later writings are regarded as purely mythical. One assigns to Palladius an apostolate in Scotland of twenty-three years; another makes him the tutor of St. Sevanus, contemporary of St. Adamnan, and Brude, king of the Picts (A.D. 697-706), all of which is irreconcilable with the Irish narratives and with the date of the saint’s mission from St. Celestine. A German theory has found favour with some writers in recent times, to the effect that the Bishop Palladius referred to in the second entry by Prosper as sent to Ireland by Celestine was none other than St. Patrick. This theory viewed independently of the ancient historical narratives would have much to commend it. It would merely imply that the Bishop Palladius of the second entry in the chronicle was distinct from the Deacon Palladius of the first entry, and that the scanty records connected with Palladius’s mission to Ireland were to be referred to St. Patrick. But this theory is inconsistent with the unbroken series of testimonies in the ancient lives of St. Patrick and cannot easily be reconciled with the traditions of the Scottish Church (Moran, Shearman, Stikes/Stokes? Forbes, Skein, Bellesheim).
- Sources:SHEARMAN, Loca Patriciana (Dublin, 1879); STOKES, Vita tripartita in Rolls Series (London, 1888); FORBES, Kalendars of Scottish MSS. (Edinburgh, 1872); SKEIN, Celtic Scotland II (Edinburgh, 1886); BELLESHEIM, Hist. of the C. Church in Scotland, tr. HUNTER-BLAIR, I (Edinburgh and London, 1887). See also lives of St. Patrick by HEALY, TODD, BURY, etc.
- CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Saint Palladius. 2016. CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Saint Palladius. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11424a.htm. [Accessed 06 July 2016].
- Image attribution By C Page, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2025208