It seems strange perhaps to be writing about Saint Patrick at Christmas, but the shamrock is not the only plant to which our national apostle has a link. Below is a poem by Irish-American poet Patrick Joseph Coleman, a frequent contributor to the popular religious press. In this offering from the December 1908 edition of The Rosary Magazine he recounts a legend of Saint Patrick, travelling in France at Christmas time on a visit to Saint Martin of Tours, where he is offered shelter by a thornbush which miraculously burst into flower. Father William Bullen Morris, author of a substantial Life of Saint Patrick, gave a short summary of this story:
The inhabitants of St. Patrice record an ancient tradition, which in its simplicity is full of freshness and poetry. St. Patrick, it is said, being on his way from Ireland to join St. Martin in Gaul, attracted by the fame of that Saint's sanctity and miracles, and having arrived at the bank of the Loire, near the spot where the church now bearing his name has been built, rested under a shrub. It was Christmas time, when the cold was intense. In honour of the Saint, the shrub expanded its branches, and shaking off the snow which rested on them, by an unheard-of prodigy arrayed itself in flowers white as the snow itself. St. Patrick crossed the Loire on his cloak, and on reaching the opposite bank, another blackthorn under which he rested at once burst out into flowers. Since that time, says the chronicle, the two shrubs have never ceased to blossom at Christmas, in honour of St. Patrick.
When the present writer visited St. Patrice in August, 1881, he was struck by the extraordinary beauty and luxuriance of the foliage on the tree: it was so dense from the ground upwards that it was impossible to distinguish the stem, and he could under- stand how, when it flowers at Christmas, it supplies the country round with trophies of St. Patrick. It also appears that they are objects of religious veneration, as we learn that M. Dupont always kept a branch of the Fleurs de St. Patrice, hung up in his room...
Rev W.B. Morris, Life of Saint Patrick, with a Preliminary Account of the Sources of the Saint's History (4th ed., London, Dublin and New York, 1890), 271.
Coleman's poetic rendering of the legend sticks very closely to the story recounted by Father Morris but adds a postscript telling us that the thorn bush flowers every Christmas night. Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir!
St. Patrick's Flowers
By P. J. Coleman
The Rosary Magazine Volume XXXIII, December 1908, 642-643.
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