While St. Patrick’s legacy is visible throughout Northern Ireland, the city of Downpatrick, whose name pays homage to the saint, is a good place to begin a Patrick-related tour.
Many sites here celebrate the missionary, including the Saint Patrick Centre, a museum that is a focus of studies relating to the patron saint of Ireland.
The museum tells the story of Patrick through multimedia technology, including video re-enactments of scenes from Patrick’s life, audio excerpts from his writings, and interactive exhibits that explore his life and legacy.
Visitors enter the museum by crossing a “Time Bridge” that takes them back to the world of fifth-century Ireland. At the time Ireland was on the edge of the known world, home to a people considered as dangerous and unpredictable as the terrain on which they lived. The Celts were fragmented by political divisions and frequently at war, but also culturally and artistically sophisticated.
The museum’s main exhibits detail the life of Patrick, a tale of danger and adventure taken from his Confession, an autobiography written in about 450. Audio clips and displays tell of his capture by Irish raiders and six years as a slave in Ireland, followed by escape back to England and later return to Ireland. The museum makes it clear how important Patrick’s Confession was in spreading his message. The book was widely read and helped Christianity gain followers throughout the island.
After passing over another Time Bridge leading out of the fifth century, the museum explores the Patrick’s legacy through the centuries, how he helped inspire missionary work, the founding of monasteries, and an artistic flowering. Contemporary people give their opinions on the saint’s influence as well.
It’s clear that the museum’s planners hope that the centre will help unite the modern-day Irish, a people who have too often seen conflict over religious issues. Each year the centre plays host to thousands of schoolchildren from both the Protestant and Catholic communities in Ireland, both groups that have an allegiance to the patron saint of Ireland, who lived at a time before any schisms in the church.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.