St. Patrick’s Day 2019 will occur on Sunday, March 17, in observance of the death of St. Patrick – the patron saint of Ireland.
It began as a religious feast day back in the 17th century and over time evolved into a variety of festivals spanning the globe to celebrate Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and one whole lot of green everything.
St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, is one of the most widely known figures in Christianity. However, his life continues to remain somewhat of a mystery. So many of the traditional stories associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of him banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the product of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
But who was Saint Patrick?
We do know that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents towards the end of the fourth century. It is believed the died on March 17, around 460 A.D. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it is said that he probably took the role because of tax incentives and no evidence exists that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At age sixteen, Patrick was taken as a prisoner by Irish raiders while attacking his family’s estate. These raiders took him to Ireland where he held in captivity for six years. However some dispute where his captivity took place. Many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim, however, he was most likely held in County Mayo near Killala.) Throughout this time, he worked as a shepherd in the remote outdoors. During this time as he was lonely and in fear, he turned to religion for solace and became a devout Christian with the dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)
After spending over six years as a prisoner, Patrick made his escape. According to Patrick’s writing, a voice that he believed to be God’s, spoke to him in a dream, telling him he must to leave Ireland.
Patrick walked almost two hundred miles from County Mayo to the Irish coast. After he escaped to Britain, Patrick explained that he had experienced another revelation wherein an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Not long after this, Patrick began religious training studying for over 15 years.
After being ordaned as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a double mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.
St. Patrick: Bonfires and Crosses
Patrick, familiar with the Irish language and culture, chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.