his parents. But Britain had become
partially Christianized under Roman rule, and the boy may have taken
Patrick possibly a Christian or Roman name from Latin "patricius", meaning
"patrician, or noble" at his baptism.
As a teenager Patrick was forced into slavery
and taken to Ireland probably County Antrim north of what is now Belfast in Northern
Ireland. In the Antrim hills, Patrick was indentured as a shepherd. Ireland never
part of the Roman Empire was not yet Christian, but pagan, practicing the religion of
Irish Celts led by Druid priests. It is likely that Patrick learned Irish Gaelic during
At about 20 years of age Patrick ran away from
Antrim and got to the Irish coast possibly east coast at or near present-day
Wexford(?) where he talked his way onto a ship and fled back to Britain (probably
Wales, and, if so, maybe back to his family).
We next know that he went to Gaul (modern-day
France), and, over a period of (perhaps) twelve years, became educated in a monastery in
Auxerre under St. Germain, the bishop. He became an ordained priest, spending much of
twenty years in Marmoutier Abbey.
About two years after Pope Celestine had sent
St. Palladius as missionary to Ireland to convert the Celts, Palladius was transferred to
Scotland. At the recommendation of his mentor in Gaul, Patrick was made the Popes
new emissary (and second bishop) to Ireland in the year 432(?).
Once in Ireland where there were four
major kingdoms and a tribal society Patrick and his entourage began by successfully
converting the King of Laoghaire to Christianity. The king permitted Patrick and his group
to travel throughout his kingdom spreading the new religion. Everywhere he went Patrick
attempted to establish local outposts of the religion schools, churches, and
monasteries (which were schools and churches).
Several of Patricks group were later
canonized, too. For many years (30-40?) Patrick and his followers traveled throughout
Ireland converting the population to Christianity. The end came reputedly on March 17
on some year after 460 (possibly 461?) in northeastern Ireland, possibly at the site
of his first established Irish church, called Saul, in or around what is now Downpatrick
in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Over time the life of Patrick the missionary
took on legendary features. Within 300 years he had become practically worshipped and made
a national figure without equal in Ireland. Patrick had become recognized as a saint in
Ireland long before Rome officially beatified him.
centuries assorted miracles and myths have become associated to Saint Patrick. Among them
are two that are pillars of his legend:
He ridded Ireland of snakes. Island Ireland never had snakes.
made the 3-leaf shamrock a symbol of Ireland by using it to explain the
to pagans how God
can at once by a trinity of three parts, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Theres no
reason not to attribute this legend to Patrick, but no written evidence that he developed
this clever metaphor using a common Irish meadow plant.
There is almost no
written history from the Ireland of Patricks lifetime. Remarkably, two documents
about Patrick do exist, and both were written by him: his Confession and a letter
he wrote to a British noble named Coroticus.
THE FESTIVAL IN IRELAND
Celebrating the life of St. Patrick began in the Middle Ages (as early as the
ninth century AD?) with "the Feast of St. Patricks falling
asleep". The ancient Book of Armagh notes that all Irish monasteries
and churches should commemorate Saint Patrick with a mid-spring celebration to last three
days and nights.
Despite the long tradition of St.
Patricks Day celebrations in Ireland, celebrations were, until recently, localized
and low-key. Many other countries especially those where Irish immigration was heavy,
but including many (like Denmark) where there are few Irish immigrants
have for a
long time had major recognition of the Irish patron saint. St. Patricks Day has been
an unofficial holiday in America at least since 1737 when it first was publicly celebrated
in where else?
In 1996 Dublin seized on the potential
commercial appeal of such a celebration and organized its first major St. Patricks
Festival. No longer just a "day", the Dublin event requires a
most of a week
for all of its varied activities culminating in a huge parade. Interestingly, it took an
act of the Irish Parliament to turn the now largely secular commemoration centered on
Irish culture into the St. Patricks Festival.
The Dublin festival has been an unqualified
success, something akin to an Irish Mardi Gras
so far without all the behavioral
over one million during the week-long celebration.
Over 500,000 people are expected in Dublin just for the
principal parade. With many free events during the
street theater, fireworks, carnival, bands, a treasure hunt, and all kinds of live
music large numbers of
foreign guests are expected. Why not? On Saint Patricks Day
everyone wants to be Irish.
St. Georges Day
(England, April 23),
St. Andrew's Day (Scotland, November
David's Day (Wales, March 1).