Cathedral Hill in Down has been a focus of Christian worship for almost as long as Christianity has been in Ireland. Tradition has it that Saint Patrick brought the Faith to the country in the early part of the fifth century. Patrick was a North Briton who was captured by a party of raiding Irishmen and brought to Ireland as a slave. During his years of captivity, he spent much time in prayer and would say as many as one hundred in a day, as he tells us in his Confession.

However, after six years of slavery and hardship, he escaped and boarded a ship. We cannot say if the ship was bound for Britain or Gaul, but we do know that he was re–united with his family. Patrick then tells of a dream in which a man named Victoricus brings him a letter. It was headed ‘The Cry of the Irish.’ While reading it, in his imagination he heard voices calling: ‘Holy Boy, we are asking you to come and walk among us again‘. Thus far, we have Patrick’s own story, told in his Confession.

Patrick’s two principal biographers, Muirch and Tirechan, both writing some centuries later, take up the story. We are told that Patrick landed first on the coast of Wicklow and from there travelled northwards as far as Strangford Lough where he landed at the mouth of the River Slaney near Saul.

Here he met the local chieftain, Dichu, whom he converted to Christianity and who gave him a barn as his first church. The present Church of Ireland church at Saul, 2 miles distant from Down Cathedral, was built in 1932 to commemorate the fifteen hundredth anniversary of Patrick’s arrival. Patrick spent many years travelling among the Irish, converting the people to Christianity, consecrating bishops and founding churches as he went.

Many years later, nearing the end of his life, he returned to Saul but let it be known that he wished to die in Armagh. He began to make his way there, but was interrupted, however, by the angel Victor telling him to return to Saul. There, in his last moments, he was tended by Bishop Tassach of Raholp. Muirchu describes his burial with tremendous sense of drama: ‘Let two untamed oxen be chosen and let them go wherever they will with the cart that carries your body and wherever they stand still, there a church in honour of your body shall be erected . . . untamed oxen were chosen and they steadily drew the cart containing the holy body placed on their necks and, guided by the will of God, they went out to Dun Lethglaisse (Down) where Patrick lies buried.’

One cannot be certain of the exact spot of his burial, but the Memorial Stone, put in position by the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club in 1900, traditionally marks his grave. It is a slab of granite from the nearby Mourne Mountains.