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Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Plough Music Series

  • Douglas Thain

    On Sunday, I listened to the Songs of Praise from Ireland but there was no St Patrick's hymn. The experts tell us that while it is ancient irish it was probably not written by Patrick who was from Britain and became the great Celtic missionary to the irish. St Columba was active about 100 years later. He lived about the time of Jerome Ambrose and Augustine and was active around 430 with no Roman church connection. This was about 50 years after Arianism - the heresy that Jesus was not God and denied the Nicene Creed. I find the hymn so assuring and strengthening that the triune God is round about us forever. It is a masterpiece and brings so much comfort and encouragement to faith and fills us with hope - it must be almost one of the earliest hymns still being used today. Thank you again for your inspiring articles.

  • erik hanson

    Finally, everything I care about reading/learning/growing on one site. I am also looking forward to receiving your emails (subscribed to all three you offered in Setup). Easy nav & beautiful layout, esp illustrations. Great work. We will be online buddies for a very long time. erik

  • Alice

    I am so fortunate to have found your beautiful, comforting, educational Christian site. I forward some of your posts to those whom I know will appreciate them. Will you please identify the location and name of the church building in this post? It is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Ireland -ed.

“Saint Patrick’s Breastplate” is an ancient Irish prayer traditionally attributed to the fifth-century Saint Patrick himself. The title reflects the medieval custom of knights who placed inscriptions of prayers in their breastplates and then recited them as they rode into battle. So strong was this association that one of the hymn’s alternate titles – Lorica, Latin for “breastplate” – came to be used broadly for any prayer for protection.

Over the centuries, many myths sprang up around this poem, one of which gave rise to yet another alternate title: “The Deer’s Cry.” Aware that a group of pagans who opposed his preaching were lying in wait for them, Patrick and his followers chanted this prayer as they marched through the forest. The men who lay in hiding ready to kill him saw only a doe followed by twenty-four fawns.

The text itself recalls Ephesians 6: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Some scholars also see echoes of 1 Corinthians 13 in the prayer’s triple structure: (1) faith – the confession of belief in Christ and the Trinity; (2) hope – for God’s protection and for eternal salvation; and (3) love – the expression of love for God.

This majestic performance in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, is a setting by Sir Charles Stanford based on two traditional Irish hymns. The words as sung are an abridged translation from the Old Irish by Cecil Francis Alexander; a full translation appears below.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

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