Saint Patrick's Breastplate

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Saint Patrick's Breastplate, also known as The Deer's Cry or The Lorica of Saint Patrick or Saint Patrick's Hymn is a lorica or incantation whose original Old Irish lyrics were traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century. In 1889 it was adapted into the hymn I Bind Unto Myself Today. A number of other adaptions have been made.

The prayer in Old Irish[edit]

The prayer is part of the Liber Hymnorum, a collection of hymns found in two manuscripts kept in Dublin[1] and published in 1903 in the Thesaurus Paleohibernicus. The document gives this account of how Patrick used this prayer:

Patrick sang this when an ambush was laid against his coming by Loegaire, that he might not go to Tara to sow the faith. And then it appeared before those lying in ambush that they (Patrick and his monks) were wild deer with a fawn following them.[2]

The description concludes "fáeth fiada a hainm", which the Thesaurus Paleohibernicus translates as "Its name is 'Deer’s Cry'. However, the phrase 'fáeth fiada' is used elsewhere in Irish mythology to mean a mist of concealment.[3]

If the description above is accurate then the prayer would date from the 5th century – the time of Saint Patrick. However, it has been dated as from the 8th century by modern experts. Although Christian in content, it shows pre-Christian influence in that it calls for Christ's protection using the form of a pagan invocation of the gods or lorica (shield or breastplate).[4] Because of this it is also known as the "Lorica of St. Patrick" or as "St. Patrick's Breastplate".[5]

Scripture references may include Ephesians 6:10–17 ("God's shield to protect me ... from snares of devils").[6]


Each verse of the prayer begins "Atomruig indiu" "I arise today" or "I bind unto myself today" and this phrase is repeated at the beginning of most of the verses. This is followed by a list of sources of strength that the prayer calls on for support.

The first verse invokes the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.

The second verse invokes Christ's baptism, death, resurrection, ascension and future return on the last day.

The third verse invokes the angels, patriarchs, saints and martyrs.

The fourth verse the natural world: the sun, moon, fire, lightning etc.

The fifth verse invokes various aspects of God - his wisdom, his eye, his ear, his hand

The sixth verse lists the things against which protection is required - against snares of devils, temptations of nature, those who wish ill

This list of things against which protection is required continues in the next verse - false prophets, heathens, heretics, women, druids (druad), smiths (gobann).

The next verse calls for Christ to be in all things - Christ in me, all around me, in the eye and ear and mouth of the people I meet.

the last verse returns to the theme of the Trinity.

I bind unto myself today - Victorian Hymn[edit]

C. F. Alexander (1818–1895) wrote a hymn based on St. Patrick's Breastplate in 1889 at the request of H. H. Dickinson, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle. Dean Dickinson wrote about this:

I wrote to her suggesting that she should fill a gap in our Irish Church Hymnal by giving us a metrical version of St. Patrick's 'Lorica' and I sent her a carefully collated copy of the best prose translations of it. Within a week she sent me that exquisitely beautiful as well as faithful version which appears in the appendix to our Church Hymnal." [7]

As usual, Alexander wrote the poems only. The music to the hymn was originally set in 1902 by Charles Villiers Stanford for chorus and organ, using two traditional Irish tunes, St. Patrick and Gartan, which Stanford took from his own edition (1895) of George Petrie's Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland (originally 1855).[8] This is known by its opening line "I bind unto myself today". It is currently included in the Lutheran Service Book (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod), the English Hymnal, the Irish Church Hymnal and The Hymnal (1982) of the US Episcopal Church. It is often sung during the celebration of the Feast of Saint Patrick on or near 17 March as well as on Trinity Sunday. In many churches it is unique among standard hymns because the variations in length and metre of verses mean that at least three different tunes must be used (different in the melody sung by the congregation).

Musical adaptations[edit]

  • St. Patrick's Breastplate in the Irish Church Hymnal (1890) by Irish composer Thomas Richard Gonsalvez Jozé (1853–1924).
  • St. Patrick's Breastplate (1902), by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) - see above. This is the best known arrangement of this hymn.
  • St. Patrick's Breastplate (1912), an arrangement by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) of his own music to C.F. Alexander's hymn, here for mixed choir, organ, brass, side drum and cymbals.
  • St. Patrick's Breastplate (1924), a work for mixed choir and piano by the English composer Arnold Bax (1883–1953).
  • Hymn of St. Patrick at Tara (1930), a work for bass soloist, mixed choir and organ by Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (a.k.a. Harold R. White, 1872–1943) to a poetic interpretation by Olive Meyler.
  • St. Patrick's Hymn (1965) by US folk-guitarist John Fahey (1939–2001) on the album "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death".
  • The Deer's Cry (1983) by Irish composer Shaun Davey (born 1948) is based on a translation by Kuno Meyer.[9][10]
  • Arise Today (1995) for choir and organ by US composer Libby Larsen (born 1950).
  • The Deer's Cry (2008), a choral work by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (born 1935).[11]

Modern interpretations[edit]

Recently there has been some interest in Celtic spirituality among some Christian authors and David Adam has written some books about Celtic prayers and spiritual exercises for modern Christians. In one of his books, The Cry Of The Deer,[12] he used the Lorica of St Patrick as a way to Celtic spirituality.


  1. ^ Stokes, Whitley; Strachan, John (1975) [1904, Cambridge University Press]. Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: A Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose and Verse II. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 1-85500-087-3. 
  2. ^ Faeth Fiada
  3. ^ Strachan, John (1901). Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus (in Latin). CUP Archive. 
  4. ^ Greene, David; O'Connor, Frank (1990) [1967, London: Macmillan]. A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry, AD 600–1200. Dingle: Brandon. ISBN 0-86322-113-0. 
  5. ^ Petrie, George (1837), On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill, first presented as an essay paper, as noted when Petrie received the Gold Medal of the Royal Irish Academy, in: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy for the years 1836–7, part 1, R. Graisberry (publisher/printer), Dublin, 1837, pp. 349 (bottom)–354. For his paper see Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy (Antiquities), vol. 18, part 2, pp. 25–232, 1839.
  6. ^ Patrick, Saint; and Olden, Thomas (Reverend) [as Editor, and translator into English] (1876), The Epistles and Hymn of Saint Patrick, With the Poem of Secundinus; Hodges, Foster, & Co. (publisher), Dublin, 1876, p. 107, as part of the section "St. Patrick's Hymn", pp. 105–9.
  7. ^ Bradley, Ian C. (2006-09-14). Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. Bloomsbury Publishing Incorporated. ISBN 9781441139696. 
  8. ^ Liner notes by Stanford biographer Jeremy Dibble to Hyperion CD CDS 44311/3 (1998); see
  9. ^ "The Deers Cry ڰۣڿڰۣ ♥ ڰۣڿڰۣ SHAUN DAVEY & RITA CONNOLY". YouTube. 
  10. ^ "Album Sleevenotes for TARA3032 : The Pilgrim - Composed by Shaun Davey". Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  11. ^ "Arvo Pärt - The Deer's Cry". Youtube. 
  12. ^ David Adam: The Cry Of The Deer, London 1987.
  • Dibble, Jeremy; Stanford Sacred Choral Music, Vol. 3 Notes. London, 1998.

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