Happy St. Patrick’s week, everyone! Since it’s that time of year again and I am proudly Irish on my red-haired mother’s side, it occurred to me that, aside from “He was the patron saint of Ireland,” I really don’t know that much about St. Patrick or why we celebrate the holiday in the way that we do. I hope you’ll enjoy learning the answers as much as I did. — Lisa
The Legend of St Patrick
Born to wealthy British parents in the year 387, the man who would become St. Patrick was originally christened Maewyn Succat. By all accounts Maewyn seemed destined for a privileged existence, but his life would take an unexpected and seemingly ghastly turn when the family estate was attacked by pagan Irish raiders. Spared from death, Maewyn was taken prisoner and transported to Ireland, where he would become a slave, sent to work as a shepherd far from other people. Frightened, lonely, and in a foreign land, young Maewyn found God his only companion, and he turned to his Christian faith as solace, becoming devout as he prayed alone and guarded his master’s sheep.
After six years, Maewyn had a dream in which he believe God told him a ship would return him to his home in England. Following the message in the dream, he escaped and eventually found passage on a ship. In England, now a young man, Maewyn began his religious training, a course of study lasting over fifteen years. A dream again foretold his future, leading him to believe that he would one day return to Ireland as a missionary. In 432, he was called to Rome, made a bishop by Pope Celestine, and commissioned to travel as a missionary to Ireland. At that time, he was given the name “Patritius”, stemming from two Latin words, meaning “father of his people.”
Patrick, who felt that Ireland was his home, as this was the place he had originally found his faith, came to his new position with the advantage of knowing Irish myth and culture. In order to help bring in converts, he chose to use traditional Irish symbols in his teaching. To help Irish pagans understand the importance of the cross, he superimposed a sun around the cross, creating what is now known as the Celtic cross.
Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one leaf symbolizing each portion of the Holy Trinity, and the fact that all three were bound together symbolizing “three in one.” The shamrock, sacred among the Druids and known as the national flower of Ireland was given a completely new meaning. St. Patrick’s use of it as a symbol of the Trinity explains the incorporation of it into today’s St. Patrick’s Day lore.
St. Patrick spent 28 years spreading the gospel in Ireland before dying at 76 in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on the 17th of March, 461 A.D. There were few Christians when he came to the island and he succeeded in converting almost the entire population to Christianity. We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th of March, the anniversary of his death.
And that, my friends, is the legend of St. Patrick. Quite a story. Quite a testimony to the ability of one life to make a difference in many.
In honor of St. Patrick, as well as his devotion to his faith and to Ireland, I leave you with a traditional Irish blessing, which I hope will follow you in the coming year: