The Life of St. Patrick
The Patron Saint of Ireland
Along with St. Brigid of Kildare and St. Columba, St. Patrick is one of the three patron saints of Ireland.
The available body of evidence does not allow for precise dates to be fixed to St. Patrick’s life. However, St. Patrick is believed to have been active as a Catholic missionary in northwest Ireland, sometime in the second half of the fifth century AD. Two letters thought to have been written or dictated by St. Patrick survive, along with several biographies written in the sixth and seventh centuries. However, the accuracy of these later works is considered suspect and not reliable.
Most modern studies of St. Patrick are based on the “Two Patricks” theory developed by TF O’Rahilly in 1924, which posited that St. Patrick was two people, not one. As a result many of the traditions associated with St. Patrick may have originated with other individuals such as Palladius, a deacon from Gaul who was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine I.
While there is evidence of contact between Ireland and Roman Gaul during the time St. Patrick was alive, there is equally strong evidence of contact between Ireland and Roman Britain. This is based on the appearance of numerous Latin words in the Old Irish language. The name Patrick is an example of this. Patrick is derived from the word Patrician which was the name given to the wealthy upper classes of Roman society.
St. Patrick’s Life
It is also speculated that St. Patrick went by the Gaelic name Patrick Daorbae, which roughly translates as Patrick the Slave.
Two letters believed to have been written by St. Patrick give a brief account of his life.
Patrick was born in Banna Venta Berniae, Wales. His father, Calpornius was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. Around the time he was 16, Patrick was kidnapped by raiders and taken to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. Patrick was held in captivity for six years, during which time he prayed every day. He eventually escaped and by the time he returned home, he was in his early 20s.
Legends of St. Patrick
Numerous legends credit St. Patrick with the ability to work miracles. The banishment of the snakes from Ireland is one such very well known story. However, it has been suggested that this is a metaphorical story, as snakes are not a native species to Ireland. Rather, it is a reference to the Druids, who were sometimes symbolically depicted on Roman coins as snakes. There are also more fanciful stories of St. Patrick slaying dragons and battling other mythical beasts. He is also credited with using the three leaf shamrock to teach Christian coverts the concept of the Holy Trinity of three persons in one God. This is why the national symbol of Ireland is the three leaf clover.
St. Patrick’s Legacy
All over the world, March 17 is celebrated as St. Patrick`s Day. The reason why this date was chosen as St. Patrick`s Day is because, St. Patrick is believed to have died on this date in 461 AD. Curiously, even though his status as a saint is recognized by the Catholic Church, St. Patrick has never been formally declared a saint by the Vatican. The reason for this is because, for the first thousand years of the Church`s history, pious individuals such as Patrick were raised to sainthood at the diocesan or regional level and not by the Pope. Due to a massive wave of Irish immigration following the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-19thCentury, St. Patrick is venerated all over the world on March 17.
Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Batsford, London, 1973. Pg.78, 79
De Paor, Liam, Saint Patrick’s World: The Christian Culture of Ireland’s Apostolic Age. Four Courts, Dublin, 1993. Pg.6, 7, 79
Yorke, Barbara, The Conversion of Britain: Religion, Politics and Society in Britain c.600–800. Longman, London, 2006. Pg. 112
O’Rahilly, Thomas F., The Two Patricks: A Lecture on the History of Christianity in Fifth-Century Ireland. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, 1942.
About this entry
You’re currently reading “The Life of St. Patrick,” an entry on Wordsmith
- March 12, 2009 / 3:35 pm
- Suite 101