So it’s St. Patrick’s Day. For most people it means wearing green and drinking beer…occasionally even green beer. There is Irish on both sides of my family, though it’s been so long since any past relatives left the old country that any true “Irishness” has been lost.
But how many know the history of St. Patrick’s Day? I looked into the mystery some years ago. (I actually used children’s books. I find them great resources since they’re very succinct. So if any of my information is wrong, blame the kid’s books.)
St. Patrick was a bishop who lived around 385-460 A.D. He was one of the more popular saints in Ireland, but the truth is, his real name was not Patrick and he was not born in Ireland. Many scholars believe he was actually born in Scotland or England. His real name was “Maewyn Succat”. In his writing he referred to himself as “patricius”, which is Latin for “well-born”. The name became Patrick in English.
When St. Patrick was a boy he was taken as a slave to Ireland where he was put to work tending sheep. It was during those years in captivity that he found comfort in God. After six years, he escaped. However, St. Patrick felt he was being called to teach God’s word so he spent the next few years studying in a monastery. Then he returned to Ireland where he lived for the rest of his life.
Have you ever read the book “How The Irish Saved Civilization” by Thomas Cahill? If not, you absolutely should, especially if you like history. The premise of the book is that while the rest of Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, Ireland experienced a Golden Age. Irish monks were responsible for copying every piece of literature they could get their hands on. They almost single-handedly (no pun intended) preserved the history of the Western culture, as well as some our greatest literary works. Nearly every written word from before the Middle Ages exists today because of them. If not for the Irish we wouldn’t have The Bible or Homer’s Iliad or Aristotle’s philosophy, no Greek tragedies, not Roman law. The man responsible for this Golden Age in Ireland was none other than St. Patrick.
On a last note, March 17th, the day we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, is not his birthday but rather the day of his death.