The History of Saint Patrick

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Note by , created about 6 years ago

Saint Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland. This note gives a quick overview of his early life, the legends which surround and his death

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Saint Patrick was a Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Known as the "Apostle of Ireland", he is the primary patron saint of the island along with Saints Brigid and Columba. Two authentic letters from him survive, from which come the only generally-accepted details of his life. When he was about 16, he was captured from his home and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland. Most available details of his life are from subsequent hagiographies, and these are now not accepted without detailed criticism. The Annals of Ulster state that he arrived in Ireland in 432, ministered in Ulster around 443, and died in 457 or 461. The text, however, distinguishes between "Old Patrick"and "Patrick, archapostle of the Scots,"who died in 492.The actual dates of Patrick's life cannot be fixed with certainty but, on a widespread interpretation, he was active as a missionary in Ireland during the second half of the 5th century. He is generally credited with being the first bishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland. Saint Patrick's Day is observed on March 17, the date of his death. it is celebrated both inside and outside Ireland, as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation; outside Ireland, it can be a celebration of Ireland itself.

According to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish annals, Patrick died in AD 460 on March 17, a date accepted by some modern historians.Prior to the 1940s it was believed without doubt that he died in 420 and thus had lived in the first half of the fifth century. A lecture entitled "The Two Patricks", published in 1942 by T. F. O'Rahilly, caused enormous controversy by proposing that there had been two "Patricks", Palladius and Patrick, and that what we now know of St. Patrick was in fact in part a conscious effort to blend the two into one hagiographic personality. Decades of contention eventually ended with most historians[who?] now asserting that Patrick was indeed most likely to have been active in the latter half of the fifth century.While Patrick's own writings contain no dates, they do contain information which can be used to date them. Patrick's quotations from the Acts of the Apostles follow the Vulgate, strongly suggesting that his ecclesiastical conversion did not take place before the early fifth century. Patrick also refers to the Franks as being pagans. Their conversion is dated to the period 496–508.There is plentiful evidence for a medieval tradition that Patrick had died in 493. An addition to the Annals of Ulster states that in the year 553 (approximately two hundred and fifty years before the addition was made):I have found this in the Book of Cuanu: The relics of Patrick were placed sixty years after his death in a shrine by Colum Cille. Three splendid halidoms were found in the burial-place: his goblet, the Angel's Gospel, and the Bell of the Testament. This is how the angel distributed the halidoms: the goblet to Dún, the Bell of the Testament to Ard Macha, and the Angel's Gospel to Colum Cille himself. The reason it is called the Angel's Gospel is that Colum Cille received it from the hand of the angel.The placing of this event in the year 553 indicate a tradition that Patrick's death was 493, or at least in the early years of that decade, and the Annals of Ulster report under 493:Patrick, arch-apostle, or archbishop and apostle of the Irish, rested on the 16th of the Kalends of April in the 120th year of his age, in the 60th year after he had come to Ireland to baptise the Irish.This tradition is also seen in an annalistic reference to the death of a saint termed Patrick's disciple, Mochta, who is said to have died in 535.According to the Annals of the Four Masters, an early-modern compilation of earlier annals, his corpse soon became an object of conflict in the Battle for the Body of St. Patrick.

The reputed burial place of St. Patrick in Downpatrick

St. Patrick's walking stick grows into a living tree Some Irish legends involve the Oilliphéist, the Caoránach, and the Copóg Phádraig. During his evangelising journey back to Ireland from his parent's home at Birdoswald, he is understood to have carried with him an ash wood walking stick or staff. He thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelising and at the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick) the message of the dogma took so long to get through to the people there that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on.St. Patrick speaks with ancient Irish ancestorsThe 12th century work Acallam na Senórach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Caílte mac Rónáin and Oisín, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill's warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick's time. In the work St. Patrick seeks to convert the warriors to Christianity, while they defend their pagan past. The heroic pagan lifestyle of the warriors, of fighting and feasting and living close to nature, is contrasted with the more peaceful, but unheroic and non-sensual life offered by Christianity.

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Wicklow, Ireland

St. Patrick uses shamrock in an illustrative parable Legend (dating to 1726, according to the OED) credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God. For this reason, shamrocks are a central symbol for St Patrick’s Day. The shamrock had been seen as sacred in the pre-Christian days in Ireland. Due to its green color and overall shape, many viewed it as representing rebirth and eternal life. Three was a sacred number in the pagan religion and there were a number of "Triple Goddesses" in ancient Ireland, including Brigid, Ériu, and the Morrigan.

Traditional St. Patrick's Day badges from the early 20th century, from the Museum of Country Life, Castlebar

St. Patrick's crosses There are two main types of crosses associated with St. Patrick, the cross pattée and the saltire. The cross pattée is the more traditional association, while the association with the saltire dates from 1783 and the Order of St. Patrick. The cross pattée has long been associated with St. Patrick, for reasons that are uncertain. One possible reason is that bishops' mitres inEcclesiastical heraldry often appear surmounted by a cross pattée. An example of this can be seen on the old crest of the Brothers of St. Patrick. As St. Patrick was the founding bishop of the Irish church, the symbol may have become associated with him. St. Patrick is traditionally portrayed in the vestments of a bishop, and his mitre and garments are often decorated with a cross pattée. The cross pattée retains its link to St. Patrick to the present day. For example,it appears on the coat of arms of both the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh and the Church of Ireland Archdiocese of Armagh. This is on account of St. Patrick being regarded as the first bishop of the Diocese of Armagh. It is also used by Down District Council which has its headquarters in Downpatrick, the reputed burial place at St. Patrick. Saint Patrick's Saltire is a red saltire on a white field. It is used in the insignia of the Order of Saint Patrick, established in 1783, and after the Acts of Union 1800 it was combined with the Saint George's Cross of England and the Saint Andrew's Cross of Scotland to form the Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. A saltire was intermittently used as a symbol of Ireland from the seventeenth century, but without reference to Saint Patrick. It was formerly a common custom to wear a cross made of paper or ribbon on St Patrick's Day. Surviving examples of such badges come in many coloursand they were worn upright rather than as saltires. Thomas Dinely, an English traveller in Ireland in 1681, remarked that "the Irish of all stations and condicõns were crosses in their hatts, some of pins, some of green ribbon." Jonathan Swift, writing to "Stella" of Saint Patrick's Day 1713, said "the Mall was so full of crosses that I thought all the world was Irish". In the 1740s, the badges pinned were multicoloured interlaced fabric. In the 1820s, they were only worn by children, with simple multicoloured daisy patterns In the 1890s, they were almost extinct, and a simple green Greek cross inscribed in a circle of paper (similar to the Ballina crest pictured). The Irish Times in 1935 reported they were still sold in poorer parts of Dublin, but fewer than those of previous years "some in velvet or embroidered silk or poplin, with the gold paper cross entwined with shamrocks and ribbons".

St. Patrick banishes all snakes from Ireland The absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that they had all been banished by St. Patrick.  chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. This hagiographic theme draws on the mythography of the staff of the prophet Moses. In Exodus 7:8–7:13 , Moses and Aaron use their staffs in their struggle with Pharaoh's sorcerers, the staffs of each side morphing into snakes. Aaron's snake-staff prevails by consuming the other snakes. However, all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes, as on insular "New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica... So far, no serpent has successfully migrated across the open ocean to a new terrestrial home" such as from Scotland at one point only eight miles from Ireland, where a few native species have lived, "the venomous adder, the grass snake, and the smooth snake", as National Geographic notes, and although sea snake species separately exist. "At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so [there was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish", says naturalist Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, who has searched extensively through Irish fossil collections and records. TheList of reptiles of Ireland has only one land reptile species native to Ireland; the viviparous or common lizard. The only biological candidate species for appearing like a native snake in Ireland is the slow worm, actually a legless lizard, a non-native species more recently found in The Burren region of County Clare as recorded since the early 1970s, as noted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of Ireland, which suspects it was deliberately introduced in the 1960s. So far, the slow worm's territory in the wild has not spread beyond the Burren's limestone region which is rich in wildlife. One suggestion, by fiction author Betty Rhodes, is that "snakes" referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids during that time and place, as evinced on coins minted in Gaul. Chris Weigant connects "big tattoos of snakes" on Druids' arms as "Irish schoolchildren are taught" with the way in which, in the legend of St. Patrick banishing snakes; the "story goes to the core of Patrick's sainthood and his core mission in Ireland."

Saint Patrick's first encounter with Ireland revealed a nation who was unaware of Christianity or thought of Christianity as an alien faith. Saint Patrick had a great compassion for Christianity and he also possessed an ability to hold on to what is essential about Christianity. He was able to draw people to the faith by offering a more open and welcoming aspect of the faith to them.Saint Patrick understood the Celtic people. Being a romanized Briton his real name was Magonus Saccatus Patricius. St. Patrick's father had been a deacon and a decurion and his grandfather was a priest. The Romans had not yet fully pulled out of Britain, so Patrick grew up in a world whose mores and Christianity were provincial Roman, in an area which never lost its Celtic identity and customs. St. Patrick had already become familiar with the Celtic festivals of the pre-Christian calendar before he was taken into Irish slavery. Even though Patrick's family had been ordained they did not seem to have a passion for their work. St. Patrick himself even describes to us as being rather indifferent to it as a youth.At the age of sixteen St. Patrick's life changed. He was abducted and taken into Irish slavery. During his six years of enslavement he developed a life of prayer. Patrick even credits God for his escape from slavery. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, whose main religious background was Roman. The story follows:Around the year 400, Patrick was born in Scotland. When Patrick was sixteen years old he was captured as a slave by the high king of Ireland. He was sold in Ireland and was taken to the North east of the country to herd sheep. During his six years of solitude he found a life of prayer and pledged his life to God. One night Patrick had a vision and he escaped from slavery and found his way home to his family. Patrick studied religion for many years to become a priest and a missionary and at night he would hear in his dreams the call from the Irish. They called him to come and free them from paganism, "crying to thee, come hither and walk with us once more". Finally Pope Celestine fulfilled Saint Patrick's wish and ordained him as bishop to preach the word of God to the Celtic People. Saint Patrick then came back to Ireland to help teach the word of God. He helped to build churches and he baptised the pagans into Christianity, he also ordained bishops and priests but this did not come without difficulty.

Overview

Death

Symbols and Legends

Early Life