St. Patrick Revealed

Posted on 16 March 2010


On March 17th, Irish Catholics around the world will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  Liturgical or non-liturgical, Irish or hailing from another culture, this is a day that everyone is wearing the green and celebrating.  But who, exactly, was St. Patrick?


According to history, Patrick, whose Latin name was Patricus, entered the world as a Roman Briton in 387 A.D.  Born near Cambia, England, in Banna Venta, Berniae, his father Calpornius was a deacon and his grandfather Potitus, a priest.  With a lineage such as this, Patrick seemed destined to follow in his family’s spiritual footsteps.  At the age of sixteen, young Patrick was captured in a raid and carried off to Ireland.  On the Emerald Isle, he was enslaved as a herdsman for six years. During his trials, Patrick prayed fervently for respite, his faith growing deeper.


When he had turned twenty-two, he heard a disembodied, commanding, yet kindly voice telling him that he would be returning to his family, and that a ship awaited him to carry him home. Fleeing his master, Patrick discovered and boarded the ship.  Once safely home, he again heard voices (plural, this time).  They cried, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy; walk among us.”


Heeding the call, Patrick returned to Ireland. He became a bishop, ordaining priests and baptizing thousands, including kings, the sons of chiefs, and wealthy women.  From these noble parties, he accepted gifts, a happenstance that brought condemnation from his fellow Christians.  Patrick then began to refuse the gifts.  But as a foreigner rebuffing such generosity, he had insulted Ireland’s royalty.  Adding to his woes were pagan groups, such as the Druids, who were hostile to the Christians seeking to usurp their religions.


By the eighth century, Patrick had been elevated to status as the Patron Saint of Ireland. Venerated by the Roman Catholic Church, he was still not without controversy.  In 1942, a Church lecture entitled “The Two Patricks” signified a conscious effort to blend two saints, Patrick and Palladius, into one single entity.  This move brought up questions concerning the timeframe of Patrick’s life on earth.  After much research, many historians later concluded that Patrick was most active in the mid-to-late 5th century.


Legend credits Saint Patrick with banishing the snakes from Ireland.  Interestingly, fossils collected from post-glacial Ireland show no evidence of snakes having lived there.  As the Church had selected the snake to symbol Satan, it was generally thought that the serpents in question were the animals used in Druid rituals, thus signifying Patrick’s establishment of Christianity over the island’s older faiths. Another legend tells us that St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate to the Irish the Christian concept of The Trinity: three divine persons in the one Godhead.


St. Patrick died on March 17, 493 A.D.; his burial is reported to have taken place at Downpatrick in County Down, Ireland, where his remains became an object of veneration in early Christian Ireland. Downpatrick houses the Saint Patrick Visitors Centre, which promulgates the story and the glory of Saint Patrick.


Here in New York City, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a Neo-Gothic work of art open to both the faithful and the general public.  In addition to its imposing central altar, the cathedral houses numerous beautiful shrines to various saints as well as the white marbled Lady Chapel with its lovely colorful stained glass, which is devoted to Mother Mary.  This magnificent, towering structure in midtown Manhattan, across from Rockefeller Center, stands as the pride of the Irish-Americans who immigrated to the land of the free and the home of the brave.


So, as you dig in to your green-tinted mashed potatoes, your corned beef, or your colcannon come Wednesday, remember the Saint that we honor this day.  Erin Go Bragh! 





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One Response to “St. Patrick Revealed”

  1. Wes Leone says:

    Thanks for the interesting look into the myth behind the saint. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!


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