St. Patrick’s day is held every year on March 17th to honor the legacy of the “apostle of Ireland”. He was born Maewyn Succat, in Scotland late in the 4th century A.D, taking on the Latin name of Patrick (Patricius) after becoming a priest.
At the age of 16, he was captured and brought to Ireland, where he was enslaved for six years and forced to herd and tend sheep. During his captivity, he was drawn to Christianity. He believed his enslavement was God’s test of his faith, so he prayed diligently each day.
He was given the idea to escape in a vision, in which he claimed a voice foretold he would find his way back to England. The voice declared to him that his ship was ready. He fled to a port where he convinced a reluctant captain and group of sailors to allow him to board their ship. A few days later, the crew landed and wandered lost for 28 days in the wilderness. Hungry and faint, Patrick urged the men to put their faith in God, and shortly thereafter they encountered a heard of wild boar. The group of men revered him after that, and after assorted adventures, he was finally returned to his family.
In another vision, he claimed to receive a letter with the heading “The Voice of the Irish” and he heard the voice of the people cry out to him to walk among them. He took this as a sign that he needed to convert the people of Ireland from Druidism to Christianity.
As a free man, St. Patrick studied and entered the priesthood. Details of his life and where he worked throughout this time are sketchy and debated. One thing is certain however, throughout the years, Patrick never lost sight of his vision to convert Ireland. He would go on to be named Bishop of the Irish by Pope St. Celestine I and was sent to Ireland to spread the Christian faith. His teachings combined Christian beliefs with Irish pagan traditions.
Although he was initially met with hostility; he still managed to spread the Christian doctrine throughout the land in a short time. He convinced Pagans that their belief system was keeping them enslaved and that by accepting Christianity, their lives would be changed for the better and they would be elevated in the sight of God. Over time, he began electing church officials, building monasteries and organizing the church throughout the entire nation.
It is believed St Patrick died in Saul, Ireland around the year 461. Some believe the date of his death was March 17th, however this is highly unlikely. St. Patrick was declared a saint after his death. He is honored by both the Catholic and Episcopal churches on the March 17th holiday that occurs during the season of Lent.
Legends About St Patrick
Many have heard the fable of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, there have never been snakes in Ireland. The myth likely developed with the snakes being used as a metaphor for the removal of Paganism, particularly since Irish druids carried staffs carved with snakes.
The Shamrock was used by St. Patrick as a symbol of the holy trinity and that brought about the tradition of wearing a shamrock as a cross.
In another legend, St Patrick’s walking stick grew into a living tree. In this legend, he was carrying a walking stick made of Ash. Whenever he was preaching, he would place his stick into the ground. In one location, called Aspatria, legend says the message took so long to convey to the locals, that the stick had taken root by the time Patrick was ready to continue his journey.
Today, St. Patrick’s day has become more a day of fun and celebrating Irish culture and heritage than a truly serious religious holiday. Parades, celebrations and traditions like eating corned beef and cabbage and wearing green all have ties to Ireland. Irish or not, many people enjoy this day for the fun and festivities.