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] On the other hand, this may be a Scripture reference, specifically: 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.

The prayer in Modern English translation[edit]

The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:[7]

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.
I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.
I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.
I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.
Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.
Christ 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 in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart 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.
I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

Note that several different versions of the prayer can be found. For example, some render the beginning verse of each major section as "I arise today" rather than "I bind to myself today." The more problematic verses can also be found in different renderings, such as the verse "Against spells of women, and smiths, and druids" as "Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards" and "Christ in the fort, Christ in the chariot seat, and Christ in the poop [deck]" as "Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise."[8]

Finally, Catholic prayer cards which have popularized this prayer feature a truncated version in the interest of space:[9]

I arise today through
God's strength to pilot me, God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to see before me,
God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me, God's host to secure me –
against snares of devils,
against temptations and vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me
ill, afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd...
Christ, be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit,
Christ where I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Christ.
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

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." [10]

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).[11] 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.[12][13]
  • 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).[14]

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,[15] 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. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Patrick". Retrieved 2016-03-17. 
  8. ^ "St. Patrick's breastplate, the poem of Ireland's greatest saint". Retrieved 2016-03-17. 
  9. ^ "St. Patrick's Breastplate – Prayer Card". The Catholic Company. Retrieved 2016-03-17. 
  10. ^ Bradley, Ian C. (2006-09-14). Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. Bloomsbury Publishing Incorporated. ISBN 9781441139696. 
  11. ^ Liner notes by Stanford biographer Jeremy Dibble to Hyperion CD CDS 44311/3 (1998); see
  12. ^ "The Deers Cry ڰۣڿڰۣ ♥ ڰۣڿڰۣ SHAUN DAVEY & RITA CONNOLY". YouTube. 
  13. ^ "Album Sleevenotes for TARA3032 : The Pilgrim – Composed by Shaun Davey". Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  14. ^ "Arvo Pärt – The Deer's Cry". Youtube. 
  15. ^ David Adam: The Cry Of The Deer, London 1987.
  • Dibble, Jeremy; Stanford Sacred Choral Music, Vol. 3 Notes. London, 1998.

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