16 March 2015

St Patrick's Day

This is my 100th post!

Happy St Patrick’s Day

The history of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland is unclear. His year of birth is uncertain, with some scholars saying 373 while others calculate 390. Similarly, his place of birth cannot be confirmed. At this point one could be forgiven for doubting his very existence! Ah but, it is known that he was raised near a village called Banna Vemta Burniae but its location cannot be identified – oh dear. It may have been Scotland but is equally likely to have been Wales, which was under Roman control at the time. It’s thought his real name was probably Maewyn Succat. His father was a Roman-British army officer and a deacon. Despite his family involvement in the church, the young Patrick was not a believer. His life was ordinary, and completely unexceptional, until the age of 16.
The young lad was kidnapped, along with many others, by Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. According to his autobiographical Confessio, which survives, the next six years were spent imprisoned in the north of the island where he worked as a herdsmen of sheep and pigs. During this period, he became religious. He considered his kidnapping and imprisonment as a punishment for his lack of faith and spent a lot of time in prayer. After a vision led him to stow away on a boat bound for Britain, Patrick escaped back to his family.
He had a dream that the Irish were calling him back to Ireland to tell them about God. This inspired him to return to Ireland as a priest, but at this point he didn’t feel adequately prepared for a life as a missionary. His studies took him to France where he was trained in a monastery, and he dedicated this period of his life to learning. It was some 12 years before he returned to Irish shores as a bishop sent with the Pope’s blessing.
The next chapter of the history of St Patrick is better known than his earlier life. He landed at Strangford Loch, Co. Down. His success lay in the scale of his conversion of the native Irish, most of whom were pagans. They also spoke Irish, so he must have learned the language in order to communicate with them so convincingly.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The history of St Patrick is littered with periods of imprisonment when his teachings had upset local chieftains or Celtic Druids, but he always escaped or gained freedom by presenting his captors with gifts.
For twenty years he travelled the length and breadth of the island, baptising people and establishing monasteries, schools and churches as he went.
By the time he died, on 17 March 461 (or 493, depending on which date you started your calculation), he left behind an organised church, and an island of Christians. This date – 17 March – has been commemorated as St Patrick’s Day ever since.
The Shamrock
Perhaps the best-known legend of Saint Patrick involves the shamrock, the little plant that is famous throughout the world as a symbol of Irish heritage. In his quest to convert the pagan Celts St Patrick, knowing that the number three held special significance in Celtic tradition (and, indeed, in many pagan beliefs), he applied this knowledge in a clever way. He used the shamrock, to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity – the theory that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are each separate elements of just one entity.
Banishing the snakes
He is also credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland into the sea where they drowned, thus rendering Ireland a snake free zone. However it’s thought very unlikely that there were ever any snakes in Ireland! This particular legend of Saint Patrick is easy to translate as snakes were sacred to the Druids; their banishment reflects St Patrick’s success at removing pagan influence from the island.

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