I decided to take a break from my usual friday essay on Women of history this week as tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day. The Day is celebrated differently in different regions of the world, and by various people within the US. For some it is a religious holiday, a feast celebrating Saint Patrick, and for others it is simply a day to celebrate Irish culture and heritage.
As an American, I am more familiar with the secular version of the holiday then the religious. The day has become a day known for celebrating Irish/Irish-American history and culture as well as a food and drink holiday. I have Irish ancestry on both sides of my family, but I don’t think that has much to do with why I like Saint Patrick’s day. However, it’s a day for family and friends to gather around and share good food (most likely Irish in nature) and each other. The area I live in has a large amount of people of Irish and German descent, so just about everyone can say “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
So who was Saint Patrick? And why was he connected to Ireland and March 17? Well, that is what today’s post is about.
St Patrick was a Briton born during the Roman occupation. While his actual time is debated, it is largely agreed that he was active as a missionary and bishop during the late fifth Century. According to his own writings, he was not christian until his late teens, when he was taken prisoner in Ireland.
His hometown of Bannavem Taberniae has no modern equivalent so it is hard to say where he was from, except that it was from the British Isles or Northern France. Many believe that it was southwestern Scotland, near the coast facing Ireland.
Patrick, from his own accounts, was born into a Catholic family. His father Calpurnius was a deacon as well as a member of the local government, and his grandfather a Catholic Priest. He himself wasn’t a strong believer, that is not untill he was 16. At that time, he was captured by a crew of Irish raiders and taken to Ireland.
He lived in Ireland for about six years according to his Confession, before escaping back to his native land. He had spent his time on Ireland as a Sheppard, and strengthening his new-found faith in God. He believed that God had led him to a ship that would take him home to his family.
He then became a cleric, studying christianity and eventually was ordained as a Priest, possibly by another saint, Germanus of Auxerre. He claimed to have seen a vision of the people of Ireland calling out to him to lead them in their faith.
He came to Ireland as a bishop, replacing the outgoing Bishop Palladius. It is possible that the two men’s stories have intermingled over the centuries, and the legends of Saint Patrick is actually more a melting pot of Palladius (who was known as Patrick by some) and Patrick.
At some point during his ministry, he was put on trial by his fellow Irish Christians, which prompted him to write his declaration. He, according to legend, banished snakes from the island, as Ireland was not known to have snakes. It was more likely a naturally occurring absence.
Some of the common imagery on Saint Patrick’s day are legends in themselves. The Shamrock, also known as a clover, was credited as part of a parable that Patrick told to explain the holy Trinity.
Most of Patrick’s life is left to be guessed, due to the loss of any contemporary accounts of his activities other than his own writings, and the possibility that accounts that do remain might be confusing Palladius and Patrick together.
However, the legend of the man might be more important. He has come to represent Ireland, being one of their patron saints, perhaps the most well-known. His feast day is celebrated on the day he supposedly died, March 17, and at least in the United States its a day to celebrate being Irish (even if it’s just for a day).
It wasn’t always that way, and the United States has a history of prejudice against the Irish. But it has come along way. Saint Patrick’s day has taken a life of its own in the United States and Canada. In Ireland however, it was only in the last twenty years that the day started to be more than just a religious observance.
So whether you celebrate this day as a religious observance or a cultural one, may you have a great St Patrick’s Day.