Saint Patrick's Breastplate

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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" and 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]

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]

The hymn is set to two traditional Irish tunes, St. Patrick and Deirdre[8] and 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 March 17, 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.

The Deer's Cry - modern hymn[edit]

Two other songs based on translations of St Patrick's Breastplate have become popular in more recent years.

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.; Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Practical Thology School of Divinity Ian (2006-09-14). Daily Telegraph Book of Hymns. Bloomsbury Publishing Incorporated. ISBN 9781441139696. 
  8. ^ The Hymnal 1940 Companion (2nd ed.). New York: Church Pension Fund, Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. 1951. 
  9. ^ "Arvo Pärt - The Deer's Cry". Youtube. 
  10. ^ "The Deers Cry ڰۣڿڰۣ ♥ ڰۣڿڰۣ SHAUN DAVEY & RITA CONNOLY". YouTube. 
  11. ^ "Album Sleevenotes for TARA3032 : The Pilgrim - Composed by Shaun Davey". Retrieved 2015-05-17. 
  12. ^ David Adam: The Cry Of The Deer, London 1987.
  • Dibble, Jeremy; Stanford Sacred Choral Music, Vol. 3 Notes. London, 1998.

External links[edit]