It’s amazing how much one man could do when being led by Christ, and yet, most of us are not familiar about the history of St. Patrick. Over the years, stories and legends about the man have grown to make his story larger than life. One of the myths is that Patrick drove out all of the snakes of Ireland. However, snakes have never inhabited the island as the climate would be too cold for them to survive there. It is possible that this story was originally used as a metaphor for driving out sin, and then metamorphosed into a different story altogether.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about St. Patrick is the fact that he wasn’t Irish – he was British. Patrick was born into a house of luxury in Britain near the end of the fourth century. He was born into a Christian family, though it is debated how dedicated the family was to Christ. Patrick’s father was a deacon, but some scholars believe that he only took the job for the tax incentives. There is no evidence that they were a religious family.
Nobody really knows if Patrick was a spoiled teenager, but the idea that Patrick ran away from God is strange one. At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped and taken prisoner by some Irish raiders who attacked his father’s estate. He was sent to Ireland to spend six years in confinement. It is said that during this time, God got a hold of his heart.
Patrick spent long hours serving as a shepherd, without the companionship of other people. As he became lonely and probably afraid, he turned to God for peace. Instead of hating the Irish, God put a love for them in Patrick’s heart. Some believe that as Patrick became a devout Christian, he became energized by the notion of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
In his memoirs, Patrick wrote that he heard God tell him in a dream that it was time for him to leave Ireland and Patrick successfully escaped his captors. He walked approximately 200 miles to the Irish coast and made his way home back to Britain. However, he wouldn’t stay there for long. Patrick has claimed that an angel told him in a dream to return to Ireland and serve as a missionary. He spent the next 15 years training to become a priest before returning to the island. He never came back.
For the rest of Patrick’s life, he preached in his adopted homeland, establishing monasteries, churches and schools. It is believed that he founded 300 churches and baptized more than 120,000 people. Because he was familiar with the country’s language and culture, Patrick used well-known traditions and rituals to illustrate truths about Jesus and Christianity. Most people at the time worshipped a nature-based pagan religion. He chose to use bonfires at Easter time since the Irish were familiar with honoring their pagan gods with fire. He used a strong Irish symbol, the sun, and meshed it with a cross, so that it would feel less foreign to them. It became the Celtic cross. The most famous symbol used by St. Patrick was the three-leafed shamrock. Apparently, the shamrock was already of symbol of the “triple goddesses” of Brigit, Eriu and Morrigan. The green color and the shape were viewed as representation of re-birth and eternal life. Patrick used the plant to explain the holy trinity of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit working individually, but also connected together. The Irish began to wear a shamrock in their lapels on every March 17, the date of his death.
What misconception or myths have you heard about St. Patrick? Do you think God’s voice is most clear to us during times of suffering? Or just the opposite?