Saint Patrick, the legend behind the world known holiday, is the best known of the Patron Saints of Ireland. He was British, born a Romano- Briton, and is best known as the man responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland. Like many of the early Christian saints, the exact dates of his life are unknown, although it is thought he was born toward the end of the fourth century C.E. Similarly, scholars do not know the exact location of his birth place, Banna Venta Berniae. It could have been located anywhere from lowland Scotland to Wales. He worked in Ireland as a Bishop and missionary in the 5th century C.E.
Saint Patrick wrote two known documents, Letter to Coroticus and Confessio
Letter to Coroticus is sometimes called Epistola or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. It and Confessio both of survived. In Confessio, Patrick writes about his life, and much of what we know of his life comes from it. Within it, he refers to himself as Patricius, but he was born as Maewyn Succat. His parents were Calpurnius and Conchessa. Calpernius served as a Christian Deacon and as a minor Roman official. Patrick’s grandfather, Potius, also served the Christian church, ordained as a priest.
Kidnapped at the age of 16 by Irish raiders, Saint Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland. There, while he worked as a shepherd for 6 years, he became committed to his Christian faith. He dreamed that there was a ship ready to sail for Britain and so escaped his master.
The road to the port was long and the journey was very hard Eventually Patrick arrived at the port and found the ship waiting. He convinced the captain to let him come aboard. Three days later, he left the ship with his shipmates and they walked for 28 days. They were starving. He prayed for food and the group found a herd of wild boar. This helped Patrick convince his companions to believe in the power of God. Finally, Patrick found his way home, at the age of 22.
A couple of years after returning home, Saint Patrick had a vision.
It was while I was there that I saw, in a vision in the night, a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. While I was reading out the beginning of the letter, I thought I heard at that moment the voice of those who were beside the wood of Voclut, near the western sea. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”St. Patrick and McCarthy, My name is Patrick: St Patrick’s Confessio. 2011
Before going back to Ireland, he went to France to study at a monastery, likely St. Germain under Bishop Auxerre. It took him 12 years to become a Bishop. He left once again for Ireland to bring Christianity with the Pope’s Blessing. Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to go to Ireland with the intention of converting the Irish. His predecessor, Bishop Palladius, had gone to Ireland before him, but was not successful.
Patrick did not have an easy time converting the Irish.
The locals, especially the Druids, resisted his efforts. He was repeatedly imprisoned as a result of his teachings. Each time, he won his freedom and continued to preach to the Irish,. Eventually, he baptised many of the Irish and convinced many of the children of the chiefs to become monks and nuns.
Patrick wrote Letter to Coroticus shortly before Confessio as an open letter condemning Coroticus and his soldiers for raiding Irish Christians and capturing them as slaves. In it, Patrick refers to an earlier letter sent to Coroticus asking for the return of the Christian captives, which he said was rebuffed with scorn. If Coroticus would not return the Christian captives, Patrick wrote, then God would turn away from him and his men.
Little is known about St. Patrick’s death although his feast day on the 17th of March is considered anniversary of his death. While his life was often hard and often dangerous, Patrick lived a long life and his sainthood stems from the works during his life.
Patrick is also associated with a number of legends.
In one of his best known legends, Patrick uses the three joined leaves of the shamrock, a type of clover, to teach about the Holy Trinity. As a result, Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock in his hand. While the Harp is the national symbol of Ireland, the shamrock is the national flower and commonly associated with Ireland.
Another well known legend: Saint Patrick evicted all the snakes from Ireland.
There is no evidence to suggest that snakes ever lived in Ireland. In fact the only previous snake references were that they were a symbol of the native Druids. Patrick did chase the Druids out of Ireland as he converted the nation to Christianity. One common thought is that the ‘snakes’ he chased out of Ireland, then, symbolized the Druids.
St. Patrick performed many miracles. In addition to him praying for food and finding the bores, Patrick resurrected many people over the course of his life. Jocelyn, an English monk in the in the 12th Century credits him with a total of 33 resurrections. He, in fact, may be credited with as many as 39. Jocelyn, in his book The Life and Acts of St. Patrick, attributed many other miracles to Patrick as well (Jocelin 2016).
Today, The Feast Day of Saint Patrick is celebrated all over the world. Learn more about the Celebrations and Traditions of St. Patrick’s Day in our next blog post, tomorrow!
Explore some of the other Saint Days
- Saint Valentine – The Origin of Valentine’s Day
- Saint Nicholas – Who was Santa Claus?