|March 11, 2002|
Who Was St. Patrick?
Although it's not a national holiday in the United States, many communities across the country celebrate St. Patrick's Day with parades, festivals, and "wearing of the green." In fact, St. Patrick's Day parades are an American invention. The first parade honoring the day occurred in Boston in 1762. Over the years, parades and other celebrations on St. Patrick's Day became a way for Irish immigrants to remember their roots. Who was St. Patrick, and what is the meaning behind some well-known St. Patrick's Day legends?
While much of St. Patrick's life is clouded by legend, there are some generally agreed-upon facts. Most historians agree that he was born in Scotland or Wales around 370 A.D. and that his given name was Maewyn Succat. His parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Romans living in Britain.
As a teenager, Maewyn was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd. It was during that time he began to have religious visions and dreams. In one dream, he was shown a way to escape from Ireland by going to the coast and getting on a ship. After a perilous journey of hundreds of miles, he arrived at the coast and discovered a ship bound to Britain.
Back in Britain, Maewyn's dreams continued. In his spiritual autobiography, the Confessio, he told of a dream about a man named Victoricus, who came to him with letters from Ireland. In this vision, Maewyn writes:
Although these visions moved him, Maewyn didn't feel himself worthy of returning to Ireland in his non-believer state. So, he journeyed to France where he entered a monastery and began studying for the priesthood. At this time he changed his name to Patrick (meaning "father of his people" in Latin).
It was only after finding his true spiritual self that Patrick felt he could answer the call to return to Ireland to "care and labour for the salvation of others." He returned as a bishop around 432 A.D., traveled throughout Ireland spreading the word of God, and built churches and schools.
Patrick's humility, engaging personality, and knowledge of the social structure in Ireland helped his mission succeed. Eventually he made his headquarters at Armagh (in present-day Northern Ireland). By the time of his death on March 17 between 461 A.D. and 490 A.D., Ireland was almost entirely Christian. St. Patrick is Ireland's patron saint.
| The Legendary St. Patrick
There are numerous legends surrounding the life of St. Patrick. Here are some of the more familiar ones:
It is believed that in 441 A.D., St. Patrick fasted and prayed for 40 days at the summit of Croagh Patrick ("the Reek") in County Mayo. During this time, as blackbirds assaulted him, St. Patrick continued to pray and ring a bell as a proclamation of his faith. In answer to his prayers, an angel appeared to tell him that the Irish people would retain their Christian faith for all time. Today, more than 100,000 pilgrims visit the Reek annually to follow in St. Patrick's footsteps. Traditionally, pilgrims ascend the rocky trail barefoot.
It was while atop the mountain that St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland to the sea. Historians generally agree that this myth serves as a metaphor for St. Patrick's good works. Since snakes are a common pagan symbol and are not found in Ireland this tale symbolizes St. Patrick's driving paganism out of Ireland.
Some believed that St. Patrick explained the concept of the Trinity in Christianity using a shamrock he found growing at his feet. More likely, the three-part leaf was worn by the people of Ireland as a symbol of the cross. It is assumed, however, that St. Patrick knew about the significance of the shamrock in other religious and pagan traditions, and may have incorporated it into his explanations and teachings.
It's Your Lucky Day
1. Find a four-leaf clover: The Druids
believed that a four-leaf clover could help in spotting witches or
other demons. Some modern-day spiritualists claim that a four-leaf
clover releases energy and helps one's judgment. Yet others feel that
finding a four-leaf clover brings good fortune, not just on St. Patrick's
Normally, the clover plant produces the familiar "segmented" leaf with three parts. However, botanists believe that if a young clover leaf is damaged or exposed to certain chemicals, then it produces a four-leaf clover.
2. Wear green: This color represents Ireland (the "Emerald Isle"), the shamrock, and spring. It is as closely associated with St. Patrick's Day as red is with Valentine's Day. Many schoolchildren and others Irish or not wear green on St. Patrick's Day.
3. Kiss the Blarney Stone: This famous stone is set in one of the walls in the tower of the Blarney Castle. It's thought that an old woman cast a spell on the stone as a reward to the king for saving someone from drowning. Under the spell, the king spoke eloquently. According to legend, kissing the Blarney Stone brings the kisser "persuasive eloquence" ("blarney").
Because of the stone's location, it's no easy feat to kiss it. One must bend over backwards and hold onto a metal bar.
A Wee Bit about Leprechauns
Leprechauns have the distinction of being the most solitary of the solitaries, avoiding contact with humans, other fairies, and even other leprechauns! These two-foot tall, unfriendly, gruff men (there are no female leprechauns) prefer to pass their time making shoes for other fairies. They usually wear a green coat, a green hat, and a shoemaker's apron.
According to legend, if you catch a leprechaun, you can force him to tell you where he hides his treasure. But there's a "catch": if you look away from him for even a second and he will try to trick you into doing so he'll disappear, taking his treasure with him!
To spread luck along your way.
And may all the Irish angels
Smile upon you St. Patrick's Day.
Beannachtai na feile Padraig