Born of a well-to-do family, kidnapped and sold into bondage, St. Patrick is the most popular saint of Ireland and the United States. How this slave became a saint, is a story that captures the imagination.
St. Patrick was a Roman citizen born in Britain, of a fairly well-to-do family. When he was 16-years old. He was kidnapped by a group of Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland where he spent six years tending sheep until he had an opportunity to escape and go home. In St. Patrick’s writings “The Confession” he wrote how tending sheep, and his connection to nature brought him to a better understanding of God and helped him convert to Christianity.
According to legend, St. Patrick heard a voice telling him he would go home soon and that his ship was ready. He ran from his master, and traveled 200 miles to port where he found a ship and persuaded the captain to take him on board. After three days of sailing they landed in Britain where everyone left the ship. After walking for 28 days in the wilderness, and becoming faint with hunger he ran into a herd of boars, where he killed one and ate and had enough energy to finally make it home. When he finally got home he dedicated himself to studying Christianity and then returned to Ireland as a missionary.
He dedicated the rest of his life to converting Irish ‘pagans’ to Christianity. The shamrock, which is a well-recognized Irish symbol, was used by St. Patrick to demonstrate how the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were all ONE and how they were all connected.
The shamrock was as sacred in the pre-Christian days in Ireland as it was during the life and times of St. Patrick. Due to its green color and overall shape, many viewed it as representing rebirth and eternal life. Three was a sacred number in the pagan religion and there were a number of “Triple Goddesses” in ancient Ireland, including Brigid, Ériu, and the Morrigan.
The most famous legend about St. Patrick is how he banished the snakes from Ireland. There were never any snakes in Ireland due to the weather, but people would say that the reason was because of St. Patrick. According to legend, he went to fast and pray on a hill for 40 days and 40 nights. While he was in deep prayer and meditation, he refused the temptations of the devil. The devil then gathered all the snakes in Ireland, from coast-to-coast, and began to attack St. Patrick. Patrick then took his mighty staff, one much like Moses, and with the help of God drove the snakes into the sea and they were never seen again.
The Feast of St. Patrick is now celebrated world-wide on March 17, the day of his death (461 AD) The celebration was recognized by the Catholic church in the 17th century commemorate the arrival of Christianity to Ireland. They day also celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish people.
Blue was the originally color associated with St. Patrick, however it evolved into green, perhaps due to the color of the Ireland (The Emerald Isle) or because the shamrock is green. Green is therefore considered a lucky color and one that encompasses the whole spirit of the celebration.
American cities with a large Irish population, St. Patrick’s Day is a very big deal. Big cities and small towns alike celebrate with parades, “wearing of the green,” music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green!
If you are attending a St. Patrick’s Day party remember the saint, the legends and the myth while you try this year’s green beer! “Sláinte!” (Cheers)