St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated each year on March 17th. St. Patrick was a larger-than-life figure who has been ingrained in Irish culture and was the catalyst for a holiday celebration that now stretches around the world.
According to historians, much of what is shared about St. Patrick is based on folklore and exaggerated storytelling. Snakes famously banished from Ireland? Snakes have never existed on the island to even be banished! Getting to the truth of St. Patrick, the man takes a little digging through the fanciful tales.
St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. St. Patrick was born to a wealthy family in modern-day Great Britain near the end of the fourth century. There is no evidence Patrick came from a particularly religious family.
After being taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate, Patrick arrived in Ireland. He spent ages 16 to 22 in captivity and was likely held in County Mayo.
Patrick spent many hours working outdoors as a shepherd during his imprisonment. Being afraid and likely lonely, he found comfort in religion and became a devout Christian. As Ireland was largely pagan at this time, he began dreaming of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
Even though Patrick escaped imprisonment, believing it was the voice of God telling him it was time to leave. Once he returned to Britain, he had a second revelation that he should return to Ireland as a missionary. It was then his religious training began, and it lasted more than 15 years. Eventually, Patrick was ordained a priest and began ministering to Christians already living in Ireland and converting others.
St. Patrick wrote an autobiography. Much of what is known about St. Patrick comes from two works he wrote about his life, known as “Confessio” and “Epistola.”
Patrick played the most influential role in spreading Christianity to Ireland, but he wasn’t the first to do so. However, he did organize the followers who already existed and converted kingdoms that were still pagan. St. Patrick also connected Ireland with the Church of the Roman Empire.
The shamrock, also known as a three-leaf clover and formerly the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant that symbolized spring. St. Patrick, according to legend, used this familiar plant as a visual guide to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity. By the 17th century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.
St. Patrick is well known in Ireland and elsewhere because of the legends about his days on earth. The true history sheds even more light on the man behind the legend.