Saint Patrick, The Beloved Patron Saint of Ireland

Each year we celebrate the life and death of the patron saint of Ireland for the sake of celebrating a man most people know very little about. What we do know - or think wePatron Saint Patrick know - is based on half-facts that are few and far between.

The details about Saint Patrick's life that we assume to be true comes from two writings by Patrick himself (well, probably written by Patrick). These writings are called, "The Autobiographical Confession" and the "Indignant Letter". "The Indignant Letter was a letter written to a man involved in the slave trading by the name of Coroticus.

The Irish Saint Who Was British:

Near the end of the fourth century in Wales, Patrick was born in England to a rather wealthy family. Patrick's father was a Christian deacon, a Roman official. However, it is most widely believed that his family was not particularly religious; instead, his father took on the role of church deacon for tax purposes alone.

Around the tender age of sixteen, the British born patron saint of Ireland, was taken into captivity be Irish seafaring men during a plundering upon his families estate. His captors took him to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. Patrick remained a slave for over six years.

Terrified and alone, Patrick worked in the fields of Ireland tending sheep. His only solace was found in his faith in God. Before long, Patrick became a very devout Christian.

It was during this several years of captivity that Patrick began having visions about converting the Pagans in Ireland to Christianity. In these visions, Patrick said the people of Ireland were calling out to him for help. In his writings, he recalls the voice of the Irish people in his vision saying, "Patrick, come walk among us once again."

Visions From God:

One vision and then another would come to Patrick. He became quite haunted by these visions.

These visions, according to Patrick, was how he managed to escape from the people who had taken him to Ireland against his will. Patrick believed that the voice speaking to him in a dream telling him that it was time to take leave from Ireland was the voice of God.

Patrick obeyed the voice he believed to be God's and made the 200 mile walk from CountyMayo, where he was held prisoner, to the Irish coast. Finally, Patrick was reunited with his family.

Soon after his return home, Patrick claimed to receive yet more visions from God. This time, God had sent an angel in Patrick's dream that instructed him to return to Ireland to do missionary works.

Immediately, Patrick began training for the mission God had asked him to carry out. After fifteen years of religious studies, Patrick was ordained and sent to Ireland. His duty was to minister to the Christians already living in Ireland and to convert the Pagans of Ireland to Christianity.

Most lore and legend is not very factual when speaking on Saint Patrick and his works in Ireland. We're usually told that he returned to Ireland to convert the entire island to Christianity as all those dwelling there were Pagans. In reality, Saint Patrick did not introduce Christianity to Ireland - while Paganism was the prominent religion at the time, Christianity was known and practiced there by many before he ever stepped foot upon Irish soil.

The Genius of Saint Patrick: Bonfires, Shamrocks and Crosses Meet.

Patrick knew the people of Ireland from his forced stay there. He knew the language, the attitudes, the religion, the ceremonies, the practices, the holidays, etc. Being under the impression that the Irish could be a bit stubborn, Patrick came up with the rather genius idea of incorporating these familiar holidays and practices into Christianity.

The Pagans had long worshiped many of their Gods with the element of fire. And so, Patrick decided that the Christian holy holiday of Easter would also include fire - a bonfire.

The shamrock was special to the Pagans. The three-leafed clover had special religiTrinity Shamrockous value as the number three signified the work of their deities and the balance within both life and nature. It was also seen as a food for livestock.

Saint Patrick used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity to Pagans. Each of the three leaves of the shamrock represented its own portion of the trinity – the father, the son and the holy ghost.

Pagan Celtic Cross

The lovely Celtic Cross should be rightfully attributed to Saint Patrick as well. The Celtic or Pagan Sun God's symbol superimposed upon the Christian cross was another mingling of religions that Patrick used to help convert Ireland to Christianity.

Banishing Snakes from Ireland:

The legend goes that Patrick is responsible for riding the entirety ofSaint Patrick and Snakes Ireland of snakes. With only his familiar ash walking stick in hand, The Patron Saint of Ireland stood alone upon the hillside that is now called Croagh Patrick. With enough force to make the sound of thunder, Patrick pounded his stick upon the ground. Patrick ordered all of the snakes off the island and into the sea. The snakes obeyed. Every snake in Ireland slithered from wherever they were lying and made their way into the waters surrounding Ireland just as Patrick had ordered.

One interesting story tells of Patrick's cleverness when one snake attempts to stand against the order of diving into the water.

Patrick handcrafted a box and offered the snake to crawl inside. The snake refused. He was loud, boisterous and far too proud, saying, "I am a mighty snake. I would not be able to fit myself into such a small box." The two argued. Patrick declared it was well possible, the snake disagreed. Eventually, out of total frustration, the snake decided to prove his point to Patrick. Of course, the only way to do this was to slither his way into the box. As soon as the snake was inside, Patrick closed the door of the box and tossed it into the sea.

The truth of the matter is, Patrick did no such thing. Science has proved that snakes simply have never existed in post-glacial Ireland. The largest accepted scientific theory is that when the natural geological shift of the earth split Ireland apart from the mainland, the snakes took a rather intense hit. They never recovered and the population simply died out.

Another quite feasible theory is "snakes" were never intended to mean literal slithering creatures, but rather the term "snakes" was used to indicate the evil Christians believed to be true about Pagans. By converting all of Ireland from Paganism to Christianity, Saint Patrick would have removed all the evil (aka, snakes) from Ireland. The classic tale of good triumphing over evil.

The story of Saint Patrick should not be taken as a "lie", but rather with a smile at the lovely culture that has always been found in Ireland. Exaggerations are born as the spoken culture passed down their stories to the next generation. Remember, this is the same culture fairies, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and leprechauns come from.

Saint Patrick's Day

Patrick died on March 17, 461 after many long years of poverty and suffering in the name of his faith. He breathed his last breath at Saul, where he had built the first church at the beginnings of his ministry to Ireland.

Patrick was never actually canonized by The Catholic Church, but rather was on the list of the first saints ever to be released by the church.

Each year on March 17th, we all become Irish. In our green shirts, we raise our green mugs and toast the patron saint of Ireland, partaking in the feast day that is Saint Patrick's.

What Saint Patrick did or did not do is really as unimportant as who wears the most shamrocks this year. What is important is the brilliant culture and storytelling that Ireland is known and loved for lives on. And in that, so does Patrick – in whichever form the storyteller decides to give.

St Patrick Toast