Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a time to celebrate Ireland, shamrocks and all things green. The day’s origins are decidedly more religious, however, traced back to the man who gave his name to the March 17 celebration.
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
Not much is known about his early years, but it’s believed his given name was Maewyn Succat, which was changed to Patrick when he became a bishop. While he’s now associated with Ireland, his exact birthplace is unknown, though it was likely in England, Wales or Scotland.
In his teens, he was captured by Celtic pirates and taken to Ireland where he worked as a herdsman. He later escaped and sometime shortly after became a Christian priest. Inspired by a series of dreams, he decided to return to Ireland as a missionary in the mid fifth century.
It was in Ireland that his legend was born. He became well known for establishing schools, churches and monasteries and later was appointed bishop of Ireland. It’s said he converted more than 135,000 people to Christianity while establishing 300 churches and consecrating 350 bishops.
History says St. Patrick became associated with the shamrock after he used its three leaves to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity. And while the holiday named for him is now associated with the color green, St. Patrick’s was originally associated with a blue that was used on Ireland’s Presidential Standard. The emphasis on green didn’t occur until the 18th century when it became associated with the Irish independence movement.
Legend holds that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland, forcing them into the ocean where they drowned. Ireland is one of the places in the world where there are no wild snakes, something experts said has more to do with its geography hundreds of millions of years ago – the island was completely underwater – than the actions of a man.
St. Patrick is believed to have died on March 17 in the year 461. His death was commemorated each year in Ireland and, with increased migration, the holiday spread around the world. The first U.S. St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the military marched through the city.
Legend holds that he will judge the Irish on Judgement Day.