The Celtic Literature Collective

The Book of the Angel
Book of Armagh (TCD MS 52)

The book of the angel begins in this manner:

Therefore, Saint Patrick piously proceeded to baptize, teach, and heal a multitude of both sexes of the inhabitants of the city of Armagh, at the fountain in the eastern part of the city, near Herente.

And there before day, he awaited many from all sides or parts, flocking together at the announcement of his preaching the faith—suddenly then sleep seized on him, because he was previously wearied with nocturnal watchings for Christ.

And behold, an angel suddenly appeared to him from heaven, and raised him up from sleep—and St. Patrick said, "I am ready, if I have lately done any thing wrong in the sight of the Most High, to seek pardon from God."

The angel answered, "No—but the highest, the Almighty, sent me to you, first for the preservation of your own soul, and secondly, for the conversion of the Irish to him and the faith, by your means, which you have acquired through the hardest labour, and under the favour of the holy spirit by your preaching, which is very clear and profitable to all nations, since you were most laborious at all times, in many dangers from the gentiles, through cold and heat, hunger and thirst,—walking actively from nation to nation, for the advantage of many. The Lord God, therefore, knows that your present situation, which we see placed on high, is a cell too narrow and contracted for the number which inhabit the countries, and that your house in the suburbs will not suffice for a retreat for all—therefore, a very extensive boundary is appointed by the Lord, to the city of Altimacha, which you have preferred before all the lands of the Irish, that is, from the first part of the mountain Berbicis, even to the mountain Miss—from the mountain Miss to Bri Erigi, even to the back of Breg; surely, if you wish it, it shall be of this magnitude; and the Lord God has given you all the nations of the Scots, after the manner of a parish, and this is your city, which is called in the language of the Scots, Armagh."

Saint Patrick, having prostrated himself before the angel, said, "I give thanks to God, my everlasting Lord, who has graciously thought his servant worthy to receive such great glory."

The holy man also said, "My holy Lord, I foresee that there will be some chosen by thy holy spirit in this island, through the ineffable goodness of thy clemency, to be thy preaching orators, dear to me, as if sprung from my own body; friends, also, and devoted servants of thine, but who will require some particular diocese for themselves, for the purpose of necessary attendance in their churches, or monasteries, after me. Therefore, I ought rightly and justly to send down, so much of my abundance, as a gift in common, bestowed by me, upon the sincerely religious in Ireland—so that both I and they may peacefully enjoy the advantage of the goodness of God, the divine donation having been granted me for this purpose."

He also says, "whatever Christian men may devoutly wish to offer to me from their lands and oblations, by their own free will, Does not this suffice me?"

Likewise, should I not be content to be an apostolic doctor and chief leader among all nations of the Scots, especially since I retain a peculiar tribute daily committed to me, and even that was given to me from the highest, but correctly, due above other free churches of the provinces of this island; without any doubt, this right will be decreed to the primate of Armagh for ever.

Let there also be a proper reception of the archbishop, the successor to the chair of my city, with his companions to the number of fifty, besides pilgrims, and those who were afflicted with various complaints, and the unsound persons and others, and a fit and proper refreshment for each of that number, as well in the day time as in the night.

But in that city of Altimacha, the religious Christians of both sexes, from their first professing, until they receive the sacrament, should dwell separately with their respective orders, that is, virgins, penitents, and those observing the lawful marriage of the church.

And to these three orders it is granted to hear the word, by preaching, in the church of the northern part of the city on Sundays.

But in the eastern part, in the palace of the bishop, both the priests and hermits of the church, and other religious persons, offer up acceptable praises.

We will now speak of the special reverence of Armagh, and of the honour due to the primate of that city.

That city, indeed, was constituted free and the chief by the angel of God, and especially granted to that apostolic man, holy Patrick, the bishop.

He presides, therefore, by this privilege, over all the churches and monasteries of the Scots, even by the highest authority of the most exalted prelate, their founder; who also, ought to be venerated with the honour of the chief martyrs, Peter and Paul, Stephen, Laurence, and the rest.

By how much, therefore, the more ought his actions to be greatly venerated and honoured by all.

And that we should admire the goodness of God in all things, there is preserved in that holy place the most sacred blood of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, in the sacred cloth, together with the reliques of the saints in the eastern church, where the bodies of the pilgrims rest for a long time with Patrick, and the bodies of those who lived beyond the sea, and of other just men.

Therefore, it is not lawful, by reason of the afore-mentioned authority, that any prelate, abbot, or other person of any of the churches of the Scots, should appeal from the decision of him and his successors, for he has the jurisdiction, if cause should require it, over all the bishops and churches of the Scots.

And that his successors ought to rule over every free church and city, seems to be established according to the episcopal degree, in all the island of the Scots, and in every place which is called the Lord's, by the clemency of the Almighty, according to the words of the angel, as the special society of holy Patrick the bishop, and the successor of his church of Armagh, because the Lord gave him the whole island as we have before mentioned.

We ought also to know, that a monk of any church, if he should return to Patrick, ought not to deny his monkish vow, especially if he should devote himself by the consent of the abbot, his superior.

Therefore, he is not to be censured nor excommunicated, whoever shall have come to his church for the sake of the love of Patrick, because he will judge all the Scots on the great day of awful judgment in the presence of Christ.

Item—Of the honour of the primate of Armagh, the bishop presiding in the chair, the chief shepherd.

If he, the before-mentioned bishop, shall come in the evening, to the place in which he was to be received, let him be supplied, for one turn, with a refection, worthy his rank, for himself, and also for his followers, to the number of one hundred, with food for them and their beasts of burden, beside the guests and the infirm, and those boys who carry incense during church service, and others, as well lay persons as others.

Likewise he who will not receive the before mentioned prelate with the said hospitality, and open his house to him; let him be compelled to supply, in like manner, seven garments, and to seven years penance.

Also, whoever shall despise or spoil the holy ensigns of the same Agii, that is, those of Patrick, shall. pay double the damage.

But, if from the contempt of others, any one shall rescue the church property, let him receive duas ancellas, from the consecrated property of the said primate Patrick.

Also, whoever in like manner, through deceit, injury, or wickedness, shall have committed any evil against his family or parish, or shall have despised the before-mentioned emblems; the whole shall be brought to trial before and under the jurisdiction of the same prelate of Armagh, who shall properly decide, the other judges being passed over.

Likewise, if a cause shall have arisen so difficult, and above the capability of the judges, it ought properly to be referred to the chair of the archbishop of the Scots, that is, Patrick, and for the examination of this prelate.

But, if in such a case, it cannot be decided by the wise men, we decree that such a cause before mentioned, shall be transmitted to the apostolic chair, that is, to the chair of authority of the apostle Peter, at the city of Rome.

Those are the persons who have decreed thus—that is, Auxilius, Patrick, Secundinus, and Benignus. After the death of St. Patrick, his disciples compiled and wrote his works.

The foundation of his address on each Sunday in Altimacha, at the tomb of the martyrs, and at his return from them, that is, "O Lord, I have called unto thee even to the end."

Between Saint Patrick, of the Irish, and Bridget and Columba, a friendship of love took place, so great, that they had but one heart and design—by their means much good was accomplished for the cause of Christ.

The holy man, therefore, says to the Christian virgin, "O my Bridget, your parish, in your province shall be considered your kingdom, in the eastern and western part, your authority shall be supported by me."

Betham, William. Irish Antiquarian Researches. Vol. 2. Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Co., 1827. p 348-402