July/August 2010 - Vol. 41
St. Patrick's Breastplate
also known as The Deer Cry
A hymn attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland, 387-460 AD
(translation by Cecil Frances Alexander)
This Celtic hymn, which dates from the late seventh or early eighth century, is traditionally ascribed to St. Patrick. It reflects many of the themes found in Patrick's thought. It is believed that Patrick wrote this hymn as a breastplate of faith for the protection of body and soul against all forms of evil – devils, vice, and the evil which humans perpetrate against one another. Legend has it that the High King of Tara, Loeguire, on Holy Saturday 433 AD, resolved to ambush and kill Patrick and his monks to prevent them from spreading the Christian faith in his kingdom. As Patrick and his followers approached singing this hymn, the king and his men saw only a herd of wild deer and let them pass by. This hymn is both a prayer and statement of faith to be recited for protection, arming oneself for spiritual battle.
[The translator, Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895), was a hymn-writer and poet. She was born in Dublin, Ireland. Her husband, William Alexander, was appointed a Church of Ireland bishop, and later became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
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