17 Mar The Saint who was no Saint
The patron saint of Ireland is not a saint.
He’s not even Irish.
The patron saint of Ireland, more than anything, is a story.
Or a collection of stories. Legends, really.
The children’s version says he was something of a magical presence who banished all the snakes from Ireland.
If you’ve ever been, you’ll clearly notice there are no snakes in Ireland, so, it must be true, no?
As for the title, St. Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic Church and is, by definition, a saint in name and tradition, only.
Historically, the boy who grew up to become St. Patrick was actually a Roman named Patricius. The details of his life are slim and contrary, but the general belief is that he was born in Roman Britain sometime in the Fifth Centry. Some say England. Others say Scotland or Wales.
At 16 years of age, he was enslaved by Irish pirates and taken to the Emerald Isle where he lived and worked for six years.
Toward the end of that time, he heard the voice of God telling him his ship was ready for him and he escaped, wandering some 200 miles to a port where he convinced the ship’s captain to take him back to Britain.
After wandering what was described as a wilderness in the west of Britain for 28 days, weak from hunger, he convinced his compatriots the God would provide and they happened upon a group of wild boar.
For this, and presumably other reasons, Patricius embraced a belief that he should return to Ireland as a Christian missionary.
Legend has it that he became a beloved storyteller and faith leader among the people. Eventually, he met the ancient pagan Chieftans of ancient Ireland, specifically King Laeghaire, King of Tara and converted them to the Christian faith as well.
The story goes that in the place that became the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Patricius used the shamrock to illustrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, father, son, and holy spirit all in one in the same way the shamrock has three equal leaves extending from a single stem.
The specifics of history are thin. Fifth Century Europe was not a place of detailed documentation and even if it was, fires and floods were powerful adversaries to paper record keeping.
If you’d like to read more about St. Patrick and the significance of Irish culture worldwide, I recommend picking up a copy of Thomas Cahill’s HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION. It is a fantastic read!
What’s true and what is legend is left to the best speculation of those who love to tell the tale.
St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland. If the snakes represent sin or the serpents of Biblical history, by introducing Christianity to the island, he certainly did that.
Did he convert the ancient kings? Ireland, for better or worse, has been a Catholic country for millennia. So, surely he did that in one way or another.
Did he explain the Holy Trinity through the Irish shamrock? We still tell the story today, so certainly there is truth to that as well.
He’s never been officially named a saint by the Catholic Church, but the Irish tradition certainly has embraced him, thus. And as the Irish diaspora spread across the earth, St. Patrick traveled with them all. He remains known as the patron saint of not just Ireland, but Nigeria, Montserrat, Boston, the Archdiocese of New York, Newark, and Melbourne, Rolla, Missouri, Loiza, Puerto Rico, Murcia, Clann Giolla, Phadraig, as well as the Patron Saint of engineers and paralegals.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2020 to you all. As many of us are limited in our celebrations this year by a global pandemic, remember we’re all in this together and as we like to say on March 17 each year, everyone is Irish today.
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