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A Stone's Throw: One slave's story

 

Betty Stone

 

 

You may have heard this story. It is about a slave who was abducted from his natural country by slave traders when he was about 16 years old. He was taken to a colder, more inhospitable country. It was inhabited by wild and fierce people whom you might call barbarians. 

 

There was little, if any, mercy for this slave. He was put to work tending sheep that were out to pasture on a lonely, even desolate, plain. His captors kept him there by a simple ploy; they took away all his clothes. Where did he dare to go? He was kept there several years. 

 

Perhaps he managed to put together leaves and grasses, maybe some kind of animal skins, to cover himself. I do not know. He had to scrounge for food as well. It was a miserable, inhumane existence. 

 

Although he was not a Christian, in his childhood he had heard something about Christianity. Now he had plenty of time to think about it, time to reflect on many things. The concept of Christianity gave him some courage. 

 

One night, in a dream, he heard a voice telling him that he need not stay in that open-air prison, that if he just walked away, he could find freedom. So he did. 

 

We do not know the route he took or whether he found communities where he could beg. We do not know how he located himself. Perhaps he found a stream, followed it to a river, and came eventually to a port city where he found a ship being prepared to sail. He tried to sign on as a deck hand, but was rebuffed. Sadly, he turned away, resigned to seeking some kind of shelter. Surprisingly, some of the ship's sailors called him back. They had decided to take him on after all. 

 

Unfortunately more disaster followed. The ship was blown off course and wrecked on a deserted part of the European continent. The crew was stranded without provisions. They were frightened. The young man, Patricius by name, encouraged them, telling them that God would provide for them. 

 

Miraculously, a short time afterward, they came upon a herd of wild boars from which they killed enough to ward off starvation. Patricius got the reputation of being a holy man. 

 

Once again he, along with the sailors, was able to cross alien territory and get to a port city. Perhaps he had learned from his earlier experience, but the sailors came to revere him. 

 

Finally they made it back to their native England. Patricius sought the refuge of the church and took the training necessary to become a priest. To the surprise of all who knew him, he requested to be sent back as a missionary to the wild and pagan land from which he had escaped. It was almost unbelievable that he would return to that place, but he recognized how much they needed his religion and the civilization it provided. So Patricius was allowed to return to Ireland, where the barbarous, warring natives were so miserable with the kind of lives they had to live, that they embraced Christianity with an enthusiasm that is probably unparalleled. Many became monks who painstakingly made illuminated copies of the Bible to the extent that they kept Christianity alive during the Dark Ages. 

 

That is why, centuries later, the historian Thomas Cahill wrote his best seller, "How the Irish Saved Civilization." It was the first in a series of histories he calls "The Hinges of History," based on movements that make our civilization what it is today. I am not a historian, but even I find his book delightful. With our current civilization so chaotic in many ways, it occurs to me that maybe a lot of us would enjoy reading Cahill's books. I plan to try to finish them in the near future. Perhaps you would like to join me? 

 

At least join me and many others in four days as we celebrate the feast day of Patricius, whom we know better as St. Patrick. 

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in and lives in Columbus.

 

Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.

 

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