The Breastplate of Saint Patrick

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all who are observing it. Perhaps you’ll appreciate the discussion of the Lorica of Saint Patrick posted today at the Celtic Myth Podshow. A lorica (literally, “breastplate”) is a poetic prayer form especially associated with Ireland. It is a prayer of protection by which the pray-er claims divine protection from various threats and enemies, hence the “breastplate” imagery.

As with much early Irish Christian religiosity, this traditional prayer (not likely to actually go back to St. Patrick himself) is steeped in earlier pagan or druidic forms:

It is written in the style of a druidic incantation for protection on a journey. It is part of the Liber Hymnorum, a collection of hymns found in two manuscripts kept in Dublin. This beautiful prayer of St. Patrick, popularly known as “St. Patrick’s Breast-Plate”, is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. It’s fascinating to compare the structure of this prayer with many of the incantations found in the Carmina Gadelica as well as many of the meditations and rituals seen in Druidry, Wicca and Ceremonial Magic today.

The text of the prayer is included both in its most familar English form and in a more literal translation from Old Irish.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m wearing green today only because it’s 38° F in Charlotte, where I’m currently away from home on business, and green is the color of the only clean long-sleeved shirt I have with me!

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