The Miraculous Christmas Flowers of St. Patrick

For centuries an annual phenomenon happened as two shrubs in France blossomed profusely at Christmastime in honor of St. Patrick.

Blackthorn (photo: Peggy Choucair / Pixabay)

St. Patrick was traveling from Ireland to France to see and meet with St. Martin, the Bishop of Tours. It was during Christmas time, recounts a centuries-old tradition in an area along the Loire river. After leaving Bordeaux, Patrick stopped by the banks of the Loire before continuing the journey to lay down to refresh under the branches of a blackthorn bush, a large shrub that can grow up to 12 feet in high.

Despite the intense wintry cold, the blackthorn honored the saintly traveler by shaking the snow off its branches, then immediately bloomed in a profusion of snow-white flowers that don’t normally appear until the spring, to shelter the saintly wayfarer.

Then after crossing the Loire, on the other side of the river when Patrick stopped to rest again, another blackthorn repeated the favor for its honored guest.

Thereafter, every Christmastime, those same two blackthorn bushes, also known as sloes, continuously blossomed every year at to recall the visit of the great saint. Les Fleurs de St-Patrice — the Flowers of St. Patrick — repeated for centuries and became a local legend not only in the village of St. Patrice near where the miraculous blooming happened, but spread throughout the surrounding countryside.

Father William Bullen Morris of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri brought all the details to light in his book, The Life of Saint Patrick Apostle of Irelandsubtitled With A Preliminary Enquiry into The Authority of the Traditional History of the Saint. He was an Irish priest expert in this field, and by 1890 his major authoritative book originally printed both in London and Dublin in 1878 was in its fourth edition.

Of course, for many centuries the inhabitant of the village of St. Patrice, near the place of the miraculous blooming and named after the saint, and located 20 miles southwest of Tours, as well as those who traveled from other areas, would see the phenomenon happen each Christmastime.

Father Morris presented the detailed story in the original French by a Msgr. Chevallier and then sent to him by his priest friend who was the cure of St. Patrice, and its full translation.

We learn that “year after year, thousands come to gather those winter flowers which are believed to be an undying witness of St. Patrick's connection with St. Martin of Tours,” wrote Msgr. Chevallier.

These snow-white flowers bloom in profusion “in the midst of the rigors of winter” on only those two blackthorn shrubs, technically prunus spinose, actually a shrub of the rose family (Rosaceae). The monsignor stressed, “We have lately verified this circumstance with our own eyes, and can vouch for its truth without fear of contradiction. We can appeal to the testimony of thousands who at the end of December in each year are eyewitnesses to its repetition, and we have ourselves gathered these extraordinary flowers. This remarkable shrub is to be found at St. Patrice, upon the slope of a hill not far from the Chateau de Rochecotte.”

That chateau, built in the late 18th century, today exists as a hotel.

“On only those two blackthorn shrubs, the sap flows as if in spring, the buds swell, the flowers expand … and cover the boughs with odorous and snow-like flowers,” the monsignor, who was also an archeologist, observed.

The phenomenon “has been repeated every year from time immemorial. The oldest inhabitants of St. Patrice have always seen it take place at a fixed period of the year, no matter how severe the season may be, and such has also been the ancient tradition of their forefathers…”

It happens to none of the other similar blackthorns in the area except this pair associated with St. Patrick. Try as people did back then, we’re told, “Cuttings transplanted elsewhere have only blossomed in the spring, and the hawthorns which grow amidst the sloes do not manifest any circulation of sap.”

The Msgr. Chevallier personally observed, “This year the flowers were in bloom from Christmas until the first of January, that is, at a time when the thermometer was almost always below freezing point. Although growing on the slope of a hill, this shrub is in no way sheltered from the north wind, its branches are encrusted with hoarfrost; the icy northeast wind blows violently amongst them, and it often happens that the shrub is loaded at one and the same time with the snow of winter, and the snow of its own flowers.”

Could we go so far as to imagine that if plants can dream, the bushes must be recalling that wondrous day they sheltered and played hosts to Patrick.


Les Fleurs de St. Patrice

The blooms every year supplied “the country round with trophies of St. Patrick,” Father Morris revealed since he had visited the country and observed the two bushes, but not at Christmastime. “It also appears that they are objects of religious veneration” as one named but unidentified person “always kept a branch of the Fleurs de St. Patrice, hung up in his room. The whole neighborhood is redolent of St. Patrick. The railway stops at the Station St. Patrice…while at about 30 yards from the tree stands the ancient parish church dedicated to the Apostle of Ireland. From the style of its architecture it is clear that this church dates from the tenth or eleventh century” and is mentioned in several charters in a nearby abbey beginning in 1035.

Centuries before, Patrick eventually stayed with St. Martin in his abbey for some years.

And although the two blackthorn bushes continued to bloom for century after century at Christmastime and into the beginning of January despite whatever winter could assail them with, there was something that put a stop to the yearly miracle. They were destroyed during World War I when people forgot the miracles of Christmas.