Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Palladius, Bishop and Confessor, Apostle of the Scots

Article

About the Year 450.

The name of Palladius shows this saint to have been a Roman, and most authors agree that he was deacon of the church of Rome. At least Saint Prosper in his chronicle informs us, that when Agricola, a noted Pelagian, had corrupted the churches of Britain with the insinuation of that pestilential heresy, Pope Celestine, at the instance of Palladius the deacon, in 429, sent thither Saint Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, in quality of his legate, who having ejected the heretics, brought back the Britons to the Catholic faith. The concern of Palladius for these islands stopped not here; for it seems not to be doubted, but it was the same person of whom Saint Prosper again speaks, when he afterwards says, that in 431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius, the first bishop to the Scots then believing in Christ. From the lives of SS. Albeus, Declan, Ibar, and Kiaran Saigir, Usher shows that these four saints preached separately in different parts of Ireland, which was their native country, before the mission of Saint Patrick. Saint Iber had been converted to the faith in Britain; the other three had been instructed at Rome, and were directed thence back into their own country, and according to the histories of their lives, were all honoured with the episcopal character. Saint Kiaran Saigir (who is commemorated on the 5th of March) preceded Saint Patrick in preaching the gospel to the Ossorians, and was seventy-five years of age on Saint Patrick’s arrival in Ireland. Hence it is easy to understand what is said of Saint Palladius, that he was sent bishop to the Scots believing in Christ: though the number of Christians among them must have been then very small. Saint Prosper, in his book against the Author of the Conferences, having commended Pope Celestine for his care in delivering Britain from the Pelagian heresy, adds, that “he also ordained a bishop for the Scots, and thus whilst he endeavoured to preserve the Roman island Catholic, he likewise made a barbarous island Christian.” Usher observes that this can be understood only of Ireland; for though part of North Britain was never subject to the Romans, and the greater part of it was then inhabited by the Picts, yet it never could be called a distinct island. It is also clear from Tertullian, Eusebius, Saint Chrysostom, and others, that the light of the gospel had penetrated among the Picts beyond the Roman territories in Britain, near the times of the apostles. These people, therefore, who had lately begun to receive some tincture of the faith when our saint undertook his mission, were, doubtless, the Scots who were settled in Ireland.

The Irish writers of the lives of Saint Patrick say, that Saint Palladius had preached in Ireland a little before Saint Patrick, but that he was soon banished by the king of Leinster, and returned to North Britain, where they tell us he had first opened his mission. It seems not to be doubted but he was sent to the whole nation of the Scots, several colonies of whom had passed from Ireland to North Britain, and possessed themselves of part of the country, since called Scotland. After Saint Palladius had left Ireland, he arrived among the Scots in North Britain, according to Saint Prosper, in the consulate of Bassus and Antiochus, in the year of Christ 431. He preached there with great zeal, and formed a considerable church. The Scottish historians tell us, that the faith was planted in North Britain about the year 200, in the time of King Donald, when Victor was pope of Rome; but they all acknowledge that Palladius was the first bishop in that country, and style him their first apostle. The saint died at Fordun, the capital town of the little county of Mernis, fifteen miles from Aberdeen to the south, about the year 450. His relics were preserved with religious respect in the monastery of Fordun, as Hector Boetius and Camden testify. In the year 1409, William Scenes, archbishop of Saint Andrew’s and primate of Scotland, enclosed them in a new shrine enriched with gold and precious stones. His festival is marked on the 6th of July in the Breviary of Aberdeen and the Scottish Calendars; but in some of the English on the 15th of December. Scottish writers, and calendars of the middle ages, mention Saint Servanus, and Saint Ternan as disciples of Saint Palladius, and by him made bishops, the former of Orkney, the latter of the Picts. But from Usher’s chronology it appears that they both lived later.

It is easy to conceive how painful and laborious the mission of this saint must have been; but where there is ardent love, labour seems a pleasure, and either is not felt or is a delight. It is a mark of sloth and impatience for a man to count his labours, or so much as to think of pains or sufferings in so glorious an undertaking. Saint Palladius surmounted every obstacle which a fierce nation had opposed to the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Ought not our hearts to be impressed with the most lively sentiments of love and gratitude to our merciful God, for having raised up such great and zealous men, by whose ministry the light of true faith has been conveyed to us.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Palladius, Bishop and Confessor, Apostle of the Scots”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 July 2013. Web. 16 August 2017. <>