Plenty of people will be whooping it up today in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day. Before we get too carried away with green beer and corned beef, I thought it would be fun to take a look into the legends and myths surrounding the saint and the day.
- Saint Patrick was not actually Irish! He was born in around 386 A.D. to Roman parents, probably somewhere in either Wales or Scotland.
- He was kidnapped! At age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates. He spent the next 6 years in Ireland, held captive as a slave where he worked as a sheep herder.
- His name was not Patrick! Some historical sources list his birth name as Maewyn Succat. He changed it to the Latin name Patricius after becoming a priest. (Perhaps we should be celebrating Maewyn’s Day instead? Has a nice ring to it!)
- He escaped slavery in around 408 A.D., via a ship that took him to France. It was there he studied theology under Saint Germaine and was eventually ordained a priest.
- He returned to Ireland as a missionary in around 418 A.D., determined to convert the Celts to Christianity.
- He actually taught a form of Christo-paganism. Recognizing the spiritual practices already in place by the Celts, Patrick taught a combination of nature-oriented Pagan rituals which he incorporated into church practices.
- He invented the Celtic Cross — a bridge of Christianity and Paganism. The Celtic cross combined the sun-worshiping symbolism of the circle with the Christian cross. It is often decorated with runes and other Pagan symbols.
- There were no snakes! Patrick is said to have banished the snakes from Ireland, but scientists agree that post-glacial Ireland never had any snakes to begin with.
- Naturalist Nigel Monaghan, of the National Museum of Ireland states: “At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so [there was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish.” Mr. Monaghan has searched extensively through Irish fossil collections and records to reach these conclusions.
- Patrick did not wear green. Historians believe that he was more closely associated with the color blue, as a symbol of truth, beauty, and the heavens. Sometime around the 1700’s, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism, thus promoting the color green for all things Irish.
- The holiday was not always a beer-drinking marathon. Originally, it was a solemn occasion. In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day was a holy day of obligation, celebrated chiefly in church. Only in America did it take on its festive nature, with the first Patrick’s Day parades being held in 1700’s Boston.
- Just look at us now! In Chicago, we dye the beer, AND the river green! (Modeled here by my lovely Irish niece.)
- The Irish did not eat corned beef. Although corned beef and cabbage is now a traditional meal served on Saint Patrick’s Day, the Irish were more likely to have eaten pork. (Pig farms were quite abundant in pre-potato famine Ireland.)
- Irish immigrants in America began to replace pork with beef because it was a cheaper meat. Corned beef was originally a Jewish recipe — probably shared among other immigrants in cities like Boston and New York.
- There was no shamrock! It is said that Patrick used a three leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity, but that story was never told until around the 16th century, some 1100 years after his death.
- The shamrock’s three leaves are actually said to be symbols of hope, love and faith. If we come across a four leaf clover — the fourth leaf symbolizes (you guessed it!) luck! 🙂
Have a safe, happy and blessed Saint Patrick’s Day!