Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Who is the real St. Patrick?
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Although he is one of the most recognized figures in Christianity, his life is a bit of a mystery. Many of the stories normally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous telling of his ridding Ireland of all snakes, are false. This is just exaggerated storytelling.
He was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D. His parents were quite wealthy but not particularly religious. At sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They took him to Ireland where he was in captivity for 6 years. During this time, he turned to his religion for comfort, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his own writing, God’s voice spoke to him in a dream, telling him to leave Ireland. He had to walk 200 miles from County Mayo to the Irish coast. He escaped to Britain and reported that he had a second revelation. It was in the form of an angel in a dream that told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after this vision, Patrick began religious training which lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to convert the Irish. This contradicts the widely held belief that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.
Patrick incorporated traditional rituals into his lessons of Christianity. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish traditionally honored 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. Irish tradition is rich in story-telling so it is no wonder that the tales of Patrick’s life have been embellished and exaggerated over the many years.