St. Patrick's Day 2018: The History of the Saint Behind the Holiday

Playing Who Was Saint Patrick?

With March comes a flood of green and gold as enthusiasts of the Emerald Isle excitedly prepare for St. Patrick’s Day.

But St. Paddy’s Day is much more than just parades, green beer and shamrocks. 

Here’s a look at the history of the man who inspired the international March 17 celebration of all things Ireland.

St. Patrick was a missionary and bishop in Ireland who went on to be named the primary patron saint of the country, along with Saints Brigid of Kildare and Columba. 

Patrick, who was never officially canonized by the Catholic Church and therefore is a saint in name only, is believed to have been born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century.

He reportedly wrote in one of the his two surviving Latin works that he came from Banna Venta Berniae, Simon Rodway, a lecturer in Celtic studies wrote for The Conversation UK.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know where that was, except that it was somewhere in Britain," Rodway wrote. "As he was captured there by Irish raiders, it must have been reasonably close to the west coast of Britain. So it is quite possibly, but by no means necessarily, somewhere in Wales.”

When he was 16, Patrick was taken captive by Irish raiders who attacked his family’s property. 

The teen was brought back to Ireland, where he was forced into slavery for six years. 

Spending much of his time alone, Patrick turned to religion for solace and went on to become a devout Christian.

He eventually escaped back to Britain, but decided to return to Ireland as a missionary. He was ordained as a priest and sent back to the country that enslaved him to minister to and convert the masses.

Misconceptions about Patrick have transformed into widely-held beliefs regarded as fact.

Contrary to popular belief, Patrick was not the first to introduce Christianity to the mostly-pagan country, but he did incorporate traditions tied to native Irish beliefs into his religious lessons.

Patrick’s ability to combine the old with the new proved a successful approach to converting Ireland, which has become known as one of the epicenters of Christianity in Europe. 

He also didn’t drive out the snakes from Ireland, as the country has never had any to begin with. 

And while many associate the shamrock with Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick is not believed to have used the three-leafed clover to preach. 

The shamrock was reportedly first mentioned in print by an English visitor to Ireland who wrote in 1684 that the Irish celebrate Saint Patrick by wearing “shamroges, 3 leav’d grass, which they likewise eat [they say] to cause a sweet breath.”

Saint Patrick is believed to have died on March 17. In honor of his life, he is celebrated as a holy day of obligation and a celebration of the country he came to be most associated with: Ireland.  

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