By Danièle Cybulskie
In honour of the day, it seems fitting to throw out some interesting facts about St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint.
The most common belief about St. Paddy is, well, that he’s Irish. In actual fact – at least, as far as we can tell, relying especially on his Confessions – Patrick was a fifth-century Briton who was captured by an Irish raiding party when he was about sixteen years old, and brought back to Ireland to become a slave. The hardship he endured at the hands of the pagan Irish brought him closer to God, and he became a fervent Christian, praying constantly. Patrick spent six years in slavery before making his escape back to mainland Britain, with the helpful aid of some visions and miracles.
Patrick was only in Britain for a few years before he was visited by a vision that depicted the Irish asking him to come back to them. He made his way back to Ireland, and suffered more hardship, this time as part of his mission to convert the Irish to Christianity. His efforts were far-reaching and successful, by his own account, and he estimated that he had baptized thousands despite risking imprisonment and death. Patrick spent the rest of his life – more than thirty years, according to his reckoning – in his endeavours, although (ironically, considering how synonymous he has become with Ireland) he frequently wished to leave, staying only out of fear that his missionary work would be undone. While he didn’t actually drive snakes out of Ireland, it’s likely the legend comes from the fervour with which Patrick drove “the snake” (as in the one in Genesis) out, freeing Ireland from what he perceived as the influence of Satan.
Although St. Paddy was not the first, and certainly not the last, to preach Christianity in Ireland, it is his influence in part that helped to make Ireland one of the most devout regions in the world. Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish piety is well-documented, and the synthesis of old Irish culture with Christianity brought to life beautiful, spiritual art, such as the ninth-century Book of Kells (which you can see at http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v). This flourishing of Christianity would have made Patrick proud, as he writes, “I wish only that you, too, would make greater and better efforts. This will be my pride, for ‘a wise son makes a proud father.’”
To learn more about St. Paddy, pour yourself a green beer and read Patrick’s Confessions online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/patrick/confession.ii.html. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Danièle Cybulskie will be returning in May with more posts. In the meantime, you can follow her on Twitter @5MinMedievalist