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Saint Patrick’s Amazing Legacy

Last week I wrote about Saint Patrick’s journey from slavery to becoming a missionary who changed Ireland. I drew three lessons from his extraordinary life. But there is a very significant fourth lesson. It is that Patrick not only was a missionary himself, but he also created a wider culture of cross-cultural mission. Patrick’s life tells us that those who venture out in missionary obedience to God may well, like him, create a culture where obedience to the Great Commission becomes normal for many others, not exceptional. Patrick-people are culture changers.

Whether in indirect or direct ways ,Patrick had an extraordinary impact not just on the Ireland of his day, but also on a number of other nations over hundreds of years. The lesson is obvious. So will we, to one degree or another, whether missionaries or pastors, if we take the Great Commission seriously. Others will see, others will rise up after us. Patrick’s missionary efforts inspired subsequent generations of missionaries. Irish missionaries spread the Christian faith to other parts of Europe, leaving a lasting impact on many nations. 

Here are a few examples of notable Irish missionaries from that era:

1. Columba, also known as Columba of Iona, was an Irish monk and missionary who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries. He founded the monastery of Iona, located off the west coast of Scotland. From Iona, Columba and his followers embarked on missionary journeys, spreading Christianity among the Picts and the Scots of Scotland.
2. Aidan of Lindisfarne was an Irish monk who was sent as a missionary from Iona to Northumbria, a kingdom in what is now north-eastern England, in the 7th century. He established the monastery on the island of Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island). From there, Aidan and his successors played a key role in converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity and revitalising the Church in Northumbria.
3. Boniface, originally from England, is known as the “Apostle of the Germans.” In the 8th century, he travelled from England to what is now Germany, where he undertook extensive missionary work. Boniface played a significant role in converting the Germanic tribes to Christianity and reorganising the Church in the region.
4. Columbanus was an Irish missionary who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries. He founded several monastic communities in Europe, including Luxeuil in modern-day France and Bobbio in Italy. Columbanus and his followers played a role in revitalising the Church and promoting scholarship and education.
5. Brendan the Navigator was an Irish monk and explorer who lived in the 6th century. He is famous for undertaking a legendary voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, purportedly reaching North America. While the historical accuracy of the voyage is debated, Brendan’s adventurous spirit and his accounts of the journey captivated the imagination of many and inspired subsequent generations of missionaries.
6. Kevin of Glendalough was an Irish hermit and monastic founder who lived in the 6th and 7th centuries. He established the monastic settlement at Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland. Kevin’s austere lifestyle and devotion to prayer attracted numerous disciples, and Glendalough became a renowned centre for spirituality and pilgrimage. His influence extended beyond Ireland, as many sought his guidance and wisdom.
7. Kilian was an Irish missionary and bishop who lived in the 7th century. He travelled to what is now Germany with a group of companions, aiming to evangelise the area. Kilian and his companions were martyred in Würzburg, where they had built a church. Kilian is venerated as one of the patron saints of the region, and his missionary work is commemorated to this day.
8. Ciarán of Clonmacnoise was an Irish monk and missionary who lived in the 6th century. He is associated with the foundation of the monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise, located in modern-day County Offaly, Ireland. Clonmacnoise became a significant centre of learning and a renowned pilgrimage site. Ciarán’s influence extended beyond Ireland, as his disciples spread his monastic ideals and teachings to other regions.
9. Gall, an Irish monk, is known for his missionary work in what is now Switzerland during the 7th century. He established the monastery of St. Gallen, which became a centre of learning and missionary activity. The monastery played a crucial role in the conversion of the Alemanni people to Christianity and the dissemination of knowledge in the region.

These are just a few examples of the notable Irish missionaries who left their mark on the early Middle Ages. Their missionary endeavours and contributions to education and spirituality contributed to the spread of Christianity and the development of Christian culture in various parts of Europe.

Our obedience to the Great Commission can have an impact way beyond our lifetime, an impact across nations and across the centuries, giving a new definition to the Hebrews 11:4 statement about Abel: “he being dead yet speaketh.” O for pastors and leaders who, like Patrick, will go in obedience to the Great Commission!

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