Saul Church is built on the site of Saint Patrick’s earliest place of Christian worship in Ireland, founded by the Saint in 432 AD. Originally made of wood, the church has been rebuilt many times – most recently in 1932 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of its foundation.
When St Patrick came to Ireland strong currents swept his boat from the Irish sea through the Strangford Lough Narrows and he landed at the Slaney River, near Downpatrick. The High King’s brother, Dichu, was quickly converted and gave him a barn or Sabhall in Gaelic, from which the name Saul derives. This became the first church in Ireland. Some early writers say that, when close to death, St Patrick was told by an angel to ‘return to the place from which you came, that is, to Sabhall”, where he died on March 17th around the year 461AD.
It was said that the surrounding countryside was lit by hundreds of bonfires, like a sea of stars, to mark his passing.
The ancient site at Saul has many interesting artifacts including stone-built graves, a souterrain and an important collection of cross-carved stones, ranging in date from the 8th to the mid 12th century when St Malachy introduced Augustinian Canons here. Two small mortuary houses still exist from that time.
Location: Turn left after leaving St Patrick’s Square and follow the traffic to the to the second set of traffic lights. Turn onto Saul Way and then left onto Saul road. Saul Church is a mile along that road on the left.
Close by on the crest of Slieve Patrick is the tallest statue of St Patrick in the world, built in 1932 to commemorate his landing in Lecale. The Statue was carved with the robes of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh but, in order to bring the faiths together, the face used for Patrick was that of the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh. A path leads to the summit and the gentle walk will be rewarded by magnificent views of Strangford and the Mourne Mountains.