Saint Patrick’s Day, a public holiday in Ireland, Montserrat and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, widely celebrated in the English-speaking world and to a lesser degree in other parts of the world.
But who exactly was he?
Early in the 5th century, an Irish ship beat against the waves along the western coast of Great Britain. On the far edge of the crumbling Roman Empire, a band of Irish marauders crept into a secluded cove and raided the village of Bannavem Taburniae.
Among the plunder captured by the band of warriors dispatched by Ireland’s King Niall of the Nine Hostages was a 16-year-old boy named Maewyn Succat. Who would later become known as St Patrick.
Saint Patrick’s real name was probably Maewyn Succat. His father, Calpornius, was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon. Despite his father’s involvement in the church, Maewyn Succat did not, at first, follow suit. He was not a believer. In fact, until the age of 16, his life was unexceptional.
According to his autobiography Confessio, for the next six years, he was kept in prison in the north of the island of Ireland. Here he worked as a herdsman tending to sheep and pigs, on Mount Slemish, in County Antrim.
It was during this time that Maewyn Succat found religion. He believed that his kidnapping and enslavement were punishment for his lack of belief.
He spent a great deal of time in prayer. Eventually, he had a vision that saw him as a stowaway on a boat back to Britain. He soon escaped and was reunited with his family.
Back in Britain and safe from his captors, Maewyn Succat had a vision that the people of Ireland were calling him back to minister to them about God. However, he did not feel prepared.
He traveled to France where he trained in a monastery, possibly under Saint Germain, the Bishop of Auxerre. He dedicated his life to learning.Twelve years later, he returned to Irish shores as a Bishop, sent with the Pope’s blessing.
In his autobiography, The Confessio, he tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed, “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the shortcomings of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to respond to the call. Even on the eve of re-embarkation for Ireland he was beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanished. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion, he was cast into chains. On another, he addressed with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who had been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.
Careful to deal fairly with the non-Christian Irish, he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he called his “laborious episcopate” was his reply to a charge, to his great grief endorsed by his ecclesiastical superiors in Britain, that he had originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he was a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped “idols and unclean things” had become “the people of God.”
Before the end of the 7th century, St. Patrick had become a legendary figure, and the legends have continued to grow. One of these would have it that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea to their destruction. Patrick himself wrote that he raised people from the dead, and a 12th-century hagiography places this number at 33 men, some of whom are said to have been deceased for many years. He also reportedly prayed for the provision of food for hungry sailors traveling by land through a desolate area, and a herd of swine miraculously appeared.
Another legend, probably the most popular, is that of the shamrock, which has him explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
Happy St Patrick’s Day
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