The Incredible Story of St Patrick
As a girl with a bit of Irish ancestry, I knew that I was supposed to wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day – or risk being pinched. (I always got pinched because I never remembered what day it was.) But, bruises aside, I knew nothing about the saint who inspired this green holiday. Digging into his history a bit, I found that this Irish saint was quite an interesting fella…
A Boy Called Maewyn
Around 385 AD somewhere on the western shore of Britain, a young boy was born by the name of Maewyn Succatt. He was a British Roman citizen, as Rome still ruled the land in those days. He grew up in a Christian home: His father was a deacon and his grandfather, a priest.
Kidnapped and Enslaved
One day when Maewyn was about sixteen years old, a band of Irish raiders came through and snatched him. They took him to Ireland and sold him as a slave, and his slavely duties consisted of being a shepherd. At some point, while in Ireland, Maewyn’s hard-to-pronounce, foreign name was traded in for a good Irish one: Patrick – he may even have been called Paddy.
Voice of God
For six long years Paddy was all alone in a foreign land. Sitting in the hills tending his master’s flock, he had no one to talk to but God and the sheep. The sheep never responded to Paddy, but God apparently did. One night he heard a voice in a dream telling him, “Very soon you will return to your native country.” Then some time later, in another dream, the voice said, “Look – your ship is ready.” It went on to give him directions to a town 200 miles away.
Paddy had never been to this town and knew no one there, but off he skedaddled. He left his master and his sheep and ran to catch the boat. When he arrived, the ship was ready to leave. However, the captain and crew were all pagans and didn’t want the Christian on board. Then, for some miraculous reason they changed their minds, and Paddy was on his way back to Britain.
However, the ship didn’t take a direct route, and it was another two years before Paddy saw his homeland. He must have felt a bit like Homer on his Odyssey – he nearly starved, performed miracles, was taken prisoner again, and who knows what other troubles he encountered. But, finally, he reached his parent’s home. By this time, he was around twenty-four years-old. When his parents heard of all he had been through, they begged him to never leave home again.
Paddy would have been happy to stay in his nice safe home, but then another dream came along: A man called Victoricus was coming across the sea from Ireland with an armload of letters. He gave one to young Paddy. When he opened it, the voices of the Irish people rang out, “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”
From Paddy to Saint Patrick
Paddy took the message to heart and began preparation by studying theology. After several years of study, he went back to Ireland where he became Saint Patrick. In that pagan land filled with Druids, Saint Patrick converted and baptized thousands of people. He became a much-loved figure and one of the first Christian figures to speak out against slavery.
Saint Patrick’s popularity continued after his death, and by the seventh century he was already being revered as a patron saint of Ireland. His renown migrated with the Irish people who can now be found in all corners of the world. He’s more popular today than ever and it seems that on Saint Patrick’s day everyone is a little bit Irish.
This year, I’ll try my best to remember to wear green on the 17th of March and think of this saint who had such an eventful life. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have the “luck of the Irish” on his side… Maybe that’s because he was born British.
♦ Saint Patrick left us two documents which give us insight into his life: The Confessions of St. Patrick, in which he tells about his life, and Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, in which he berates them for killing and taking slaves of the Irish Christians. You can find them here.
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