The man at the center of St. Patrick’s Day has an interesting life history from the small part we know about him. While most people tend to focus their celebration of St Patrick’s Day on the shamrock, wearing green, and perhaps eating Irish food, few know about the namesake of this holiday. If you want to add some depth to your celebration or you are perhaps teaching a lesson about the holiday, here is what you need to know about St. Patrick.
Ireland’s patron saint is known as St. Patrick. He is major figure in Christianity who is highly recognized. You may be surprised to learn that what is known of his life is somewhat a mystery, despite being so well-known among people in general. Historians do know that the boy who would grow up to become St. Patrick was born to parents who had considerable wealth in Britain, sometime at the end of the 4th century, or at the start of the 5th century. It is interesting to note that while records show that his father may have been a deacon in the prevailing Christian faith, there are no records to show if the boy was especially religious.
Historical records indicate that Patrick was kidnapped at sixteen years old by a band of Irish marauders, while they were raiding his family’s estate. After his capture they took young Patrick over to Ireland. He then spent six years in captivity as a slave. Historical records do not indicate where he was held during this time. There is continued debate as to what happened to him but it is known that he worked in the outdoors, most likely being a shepherd, and was very isolated from other people. During this time he became interested in religion, and incorporated it into his life for comfort. He became a Christian, with devout faith, to help ease the loneliness and fear during his captivity.
Patrick escaped from his captors after being held for more then six years. In his writings, he recalls that in a dream, God’s voice spoke directly to him, and told him now was the time for him to leave Ireland. It is believed that Patrick walked a distance of approximately 200 miles along the Irish coast. After returning to Britain, and reuniting with his family, he writes that he had another revelation, in which he was told by an angel to return as a missionary to Ireland. At this point Patrick decided to begin religious training with a rigorous amount of study that lasted over fifteen years. He was sent back to Ireland after being ordained as a priest. He was given a mission with the multiple purposes of converting the Irish and ministering for the few Irish Christians that were already living there.
From his years as a slave in Ireland, Patrick already knew the Irish culture and language well. Because of his prior knowledge, Patrick decided to place traditional Irish rituals into the sermons about Christianity. He did this instead of trying to wipe out any native beliefs held by the Irish.
Some of the things he did were:
Patrick used bonfires in the celebration of Easter. This was done because the people of Ireland were already used to honoring their gods using fire.
He used a powerful Irish symbol, (the sun) and placed it over the Christian cross to create what is now referred to as a Celtic cross. This was done so that the symbolism of the cross would seem more natural to the Irish.
Patrick’s death was said to have occurred on St. Patrick’s Day. However, it remains unknown as to when this actually occurred. Whenever he died, the fact remains that Patrick had enormous success in converting Ireland to Christianity.