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Saint Patrick: Profile and Biography of Saint Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland


Who Was Saint Patrick?:

Bishop and apostle to Ireland, Patrick came from a highly religious family in Britain (his father was a deacon, his grandfather a priest) who spent time as a slave among pagan raiders. After his ordination, he dedicated himself to evangelize northern Ireland from Armagh, where he may have run a school. He is sometimes portrayed as a monk, but while he advocated monasticism he never became a monk himself. St. Patrick is given the credit for essentially converting all of Ireland to Christianity.

Names of Saint Patrick:

Succat: birth name, meaning “warlike”
Patricius: baptismal name, meaning “noble”

Important Dates for Saint Patrick:

c. 390: born in Scotland, possibly Dumbarton or Furness
406: kidnapped and made a slave
412: escaped slavery
417: ordained as priest
432: consecrated as bishop
444: founded the Cathedral Church of Armagh
March 17, 493: died in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland

Feast Day: March 17

Important Writings of Saint Patrick:

Three texts are attributed to Patrick, all written in poor Latin. Confessio is an autobiography and apology. Letter to Coroticus is an attack on the slave trading in the British isles. Lorica (“breastplate”) is a work praising Christ, but unlike the first two not everyone agrees that it was actually written by Patrick.

Saint Patrick, Patron Saint:

Patrick has been made the patron saint of Catholic archdiocese all over the world: Australia, Ireland, South Africa, America, India, and more. He is also naturally the patron saint against snakes, snake bites, and fear of snakes. Curiously, he has been made the patron saint of engineers.

Symbols of Saint Patrick:

Christian iconography typically represents St. Patrick driving snakes before him, trampling on snakes, with a serpent (coiled around the base of his bishop’s staff), or with a shamrock. Sometimes he is also depicted with demons at his feet, with a harp, or with a baptismal font.

Saint Patrick, the Shamrock, and the Trinity:

A classic symbol of Ireland is the shamrock, a three-leaf clover. There is a old folk tale about how Patrick used the shamrock in order to explain the difficult concept of the Trinity to pagans of Ireland: each leaf in the shamrock has the same size and importance; together, they make up a single entity. It’s unclear whether the shamrock’s status as symbol of Ireland is due in part to this tale, or if the tale developed because of the shamrock’s status.

Saint Patrick and the Snakes:

A popular folk tale has Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland and into the ocean. Some versions of the legend depict Patrick doing this after a sermon or after fasting for 40 days. It’s true that Ireland was snake-free, but that is probably because of the Ice Age. There is no historical evidence to support this tale, but it may have been meant to symbolize Patrick driving out paganism and the Druids when converting the Irish people to Christianity.

Saint Patrick’s Day:

Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland, but his evangelization of Ireland has caused him to become more closely associated with it than any other Christian figure. It is due to this intimate association that Saint Patrick’s Day has become more of a celebration of Irish culture and history than of anything related to Christianity and Christian doctrine.

People commonly wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day, either in honor of Irish culture generally or because they themselves have Irish heritage. Sometimes, people even color their beer green. The color green has nothing to do with Christianity, although it is an important symbol for Islam. Saint Patrick’s Day parades are popular in cities all over America, but these parades don’t do anything to promote or endorse Christianity — they are all about Ireland and what Irish immigrants have done in America.

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