St. Patrick's Day
It’s the day of leprechauns, shamrocks, luck, and pots of gold. That’s right, today is St. Patrick’s Day! Perhaps it should be no surprise that March is Irish American Heritage Month, along with Women's History Month, Grow Together’s focus for the month of March. The holiday is celebrated on the day St. Patrick Died, March 17th.
But who is this mythical man, St. Patrick, the most important patron saint of the Irish people? Born in the 5th century in a Romanized city in Britain, son of a church deacon and grandson of a priest, St. Patrick is credited with replacing the Celtic Druids with the Catholic Bishops. That is, he brought Christianity to Ireland. His life, however, did not start out very well, as he was separated from his parents and hometown at the age of sixteen and spent six years shepherding sheep as a slave. During those six grueling years, he looked toward his religion for comfort, making him a very devout Christian. He eventually escaped back to Britain and later traveled to Gaul - modern day France - to be ordained a minister. Legend has it he had a vision from God to return to Ireland to teach of the one true, Christian, god.
Although at first his teachings were un-welcomed, his prior experience living in Ireland gave him a better understanding of their culture and found a way to explain Christianity tailored toward their beliefs. Legend has it he used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, with one leaf of the shamrock representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In fact, traditional Irish mythology had a similar triple deity called the three sisters, the three spirits of Ireland: Eriu, Fodla, and Banba. Whether or not the shamrock story is true, it does represent well his ability to teach in a way related to the Irish culture. Through his missionary activities, he is credited with expanding literacy on the island. In his later years, he wrote his famous work in Latin, The Confessio, or Confession, that was partly autobiographical. He influenced Irish law by writing the Brehon Laws.
St Patrick was not the first Christian to walk among the Irish. In fact, during his lifetime, there were small Christian communities already living on the island. Among other missionaries, a man by the name of Palladius was sent by Pope Celestine I to convert the Irish pagans. Some historians believe the modern day version of St. Patrick combines the life of Palladius and St. Patrick. Regardless of the truth, there is no doubt St. Patrick’s contributions helped transform Ireland into one of the most Catholic nations.