After his humiliation before his peers, Lucat-Mael sought to redeem himself. He challenged Patrick to a public contest of wonders on the plain of Tara, where many Irish could watch. Firs the druid is said to have magically filled the plain with waist-high snow.
“We see the snow,” said Patrick. “Now remove it.”
“I cannot until tomorrow,” said the druid.
“Then, you are powerful for evil, but not for good. Not so with me,” said Patrick. He stretched out his hands, once again carving a cross in the air. Instantly, the snow disappeared without a trace. The crowd cheered.
For his next magical stunt, the druid shrouded the plain in total darkness. Once again he was unable to reverse his trick until the next day. Patrick prayed and with a blessing dismissed the darkness. This time, the onlookers erupted with praise for Patrick’s God.
To settle the issue once and for all, Patrick proposed the third contest, a trial by fire. The druid, covered by Patrick’s cloak, would be locked in a hut made of freshly sawed wood. Benignus, Patrick’s young disciple, would be clothed in Lucat-Mael’s cloak and placed in a hut of dry wood. Then both huts would be burned to the ground. All accepted the terms, and with the two men in place, the huts were torched. This test had a marvelous outcome. Flames consumed the hut of new wood and the druid, but Patrick’s cloak was not even singed. Benignus and his hut remained untouched by the fire, but Lucat-Mael’s cloak was burned to ashes.
Patrick’s miraculous encounters with the druids were so spectacular that modern historians discount them as legends. But as extraordinary as the miracles were, the earliest documents reported them as facts. Patrick’s wonders set the stage for the conversion of Ireland. Why should he not have expected divine interventions at such significant moments in his missionary venture?
Even though Patrick had exposed the emptiness of Laoghaire’s religion, the ruler did not become a Christian. He made two decisions, however, that significantly advanced Patrick’s work. He gave Patrick permission to preach the gospel in Ireland, and he ensured Patrick’s personal safety.
From that time, Patrick crisscrossed the island, making disciples everywhere he went. In a relatively short time, he baptized tens of thousands of converts and built hundreds of churches, staffing them with Irish priests and deacons. He founded many monasteries and schools to care for the passionate youths who decided to follow him to Christ. In 444, scarcely a dozen years after Patrick arrived, he established Ireland’s first cathedral church at Armagh, which quickly became a center of Christian education and church administration.
By the time of Patrick’s death around 461, he had completely dislodged the ancient paganism. The whole island had become thoroughly and permanently Christian. Now that’s a miracle I challenge anyone to dismiss.
Christ Is All in All
Christ is with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left.
Christ is the head of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
—St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Bert Ghezzi is a popular author and speaker. His most recent book is The Power of Daily Mass: How Frequent Participation in the Eucharist Can Transform Your Life. This article is an excerpt fromMystics and Miracles: True Stories of Lives Touched by Godby Bert Ghezzi (Loyola Press, 2002), and is reprinted here with kind permission.