St Patrick’s Breastplate

© Sarah Bourne
Published by Sarah Bourne on Wed, 3 Jun 2020 00:00
Sarah's blog

You may have come across the Gaelic prayer of protection (or lorica) attributed to St Patrick and possibly dating from the 5th century AD.  Originally a lorica was the Latin name for a piece of armour which covered the upper part of the body (a breastplate), but in Christian terminology, it came to mean a prayer offered up for protection in dangerous circumstances.  Patrick used this prayer to avoid ambush as he travelled through Ireland spreading the good news of the Christian faith, and he trusted in God’s protection to save him from the forces of evil which tried to waylay him.  It was adapted into a hymn by Mrs C F Alexander in 1889 and set to glorious music by C V Stanford.  I asked for this hymn at my licensing service at St Mary’s Church in Banbury because I always find it inspirational and uplifting to sing, and it inspires me to step out with confidence.  The hymn encapsulates so many images of God’s powerful presence and wisdom, along with the assurance that we are guided and protected in our journey through daily life.  Countless people over the years have used the text of St Patrick’s Breastplate as a source of spiritual reflection and prayer, and to provide strength in times of danger or difficulty. 

As we start to venture out, step by step, into the post-pandemic world around us, we are quite rightly nervous and fearful of where this threat to human safety still lurks.  I shall certainly take comfort from clothing myself in the lorica of St Patrick and binding myself closely to God’s protection.   

Adaptation of St Patrick’s Breastplate by Mrs C F Alexander (an excerpt from her hymn)

I bind unto myself today

The strong name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One, and One in Three.


I bind unto myself today

The power of God to hold and lead,

His eye to watch, his might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need;

The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, his shield to ward,

The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.


For those of you who are accustomed to follow the church calendar, you will be aware that Sunday 7th June is Trinity Sunday when we grapple with the incomprehensible nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Trinity Sunday is probably the day in the church year when you are most likely to sing this hymn.  Explaining the Trinity in a blog post is probably rather a challenge!  But then, we have another 20 Sundays after Trinity to think about the subject, so I might return to the challenge…..

Sarah Bourne – 3rd June 2020


Mary P
Thank you, Sarah

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