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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick’s Day – Who Was He Anyway?

st. patrickSt. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, is believed to have been born to fairly well off parents in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in Scotland, in the year 387. He died in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, March 17, 493 – maybe!

His father was a Christian Deacon and it has been suggested that he probably took on this role because of tax incentives rather than any particular religious convictions.  Times haven’t changed all that much since the year 387 have they?

At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity.  During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian.

After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he st-patricks-daybelieved to be God's—spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.  To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast.  After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.


Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honouring their gods with fire.

Images of the Irish Celtic Crossceltic cross

He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Irelanddublin

Utterly confident, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion, he was cast into chains. Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Cityny

It’s hard to know how much is true and what is just legend when it comes to St. Patrick.  For instance, if his death on March 17, 493 is to be believed that would have made him 106 years old.  Other sources put his death at a more likely date of 460 which would have made him 63.  In any event, he apparently died of natural causes - complications of old age.

Ireland – land of the green!ireland

Before the end of the 7th century, Patrick had become a legendary figure, and the legends have continued to grow. One of these would have it that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea to their destruction. Another, probably the most popular, is that of the shamrock, which has him explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.

La ale-lah pwad-rig son-ah ditch


Today, St. Patrick’s Day is pretty much a day of celebration with parades, green beer, cabbage and corn beef dinners.  It’s a great day for the Irish and hundreds of thousands of Irish wannabees!

Have a great St. Patrick’s Day, and thanks again for visiting!