Friday, November 10, 2006

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is sometimes referred to as "Maewyn Succat" which some believe to be his birth name.
Patrick was born somewhere along the west coast of Great Britain or the north coast of France. The location has never been identified, and many places along both coasts claim to be his birthplace.

Although Patrick reportedly came from a Christian family , he was not particularly religious. As a young man, he was captured and sold as a slave to a Druidic high priest and was put to work tending sheep on Slemish Mountain in present day Ireland. During his 6 years of enslavement, Patrick became very devout. He also learned about the Druidic faith and how to speak Celtic. He escaped, under the direction of God's voice, and returned home. There he lived happily until one night when he dreamed that the children of Ireland were begging for him to return.
Great Britain at this time was undergoing turmoil following the withdrawal of Rome. First with the troops in 407 and then the Roman central authority in 410.

Patrick returned to Ireland and began work as a missionary. His first convert was Saint Dichu, who made a gift of a large sabhall (barn) for a church sanctuary. This first sanctuary dedicated by St Patrick became his retreat when he aged. A monastery and church were erected there, as well. The site, Saul, County Down, retains the name Sabhall (pronounced "Sowel").
While Patrick encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns, it is not known if he ever was a monk himself. It is even less likely that in his time the monastery was a principal unit of the Irish Church, although it became so in later years. The choice of its location may have been determined by the presence of a powerful king. Patrick built a school and probably had a small residence, so from this base he could make his missionary journeys.

One famous story tells about a time at the annual vernal fire that was to be lit by the High King, a custom where all the fires in the land were extinguished so they could be renewed in a Druidic ceremony from a single sacred fire. Patrick lit a rival, miraculously inextinguishable Christian bonfire on a hill at the opposite end of the valley. This struck a major blow to the ruling Druids. Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, as men such as Secundus and Palladius were active there before him. However, tradition credits him with the most impact, and his missions seem to have been concentrated in the provinces of Ulster and Connaught which had never received Christians before. He established the Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles.

Patrick was very much against slave trading, for obvious reasons. He wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again. Patrick gathered many followers, including Saint Benignus, who would become his successor. His chief concerns were the raising up of native clergy, and abolishing Paganism, and Sun-worship. He was the first christian writer to condemn all forms of slavery, long before the papacy did so in the late 19th century.

One of Patrick's surviving letters is addressed to Coroticus, a king of Alt Clut, and his soldiers. It is the oldest surviving and identified literature of the British or Celtic Catholic Church. Coroticus and his army had attacked a band of newly baptized Gaels, killing some and taking the rest as captives to sell as slaves to the Picts. In the letter, Patrick requests that his messenger read aloud in the presence of Coroticus and all his people, "so that on no account it be suppressed or hidden by anyone," He goes further on to mention his hope that his words would inspire Coroticus and his soldiers to repent and to release their captives.

In his writings, Patrick describes how he used various symbols from Druidism to illustrate Christian ideas and made subtle changes to doctrine. For example, the Sun was associated with the deity Lugh, but Patrick reinterpreted it as certainly being a symbol of a deity, but that deity was the Christian God.

Most famously, Patrick is credited with banishing snakes from the island of Ireland, though the post-glacial island never actually had snakes. It is suggested that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by using the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover. Whether or not these legends are true, it goes to show how important his ministry was to Ireland.

Patrick died in AD 493 according to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish writings, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940's it was believed without doubt that he died in 461 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century.
The reputed burial place of St. Patrick in Downpatrick

March 17, the day celebrated as St. Patrick's Day, and is also his feast date, is believed to be date of his death.
For most of the first thousand years of Christianity, canonizations were done on a regional level. Relatively soon after the death of people considered to be very holy, the local Church would affirm that they could be celebrated as saints. As a result, St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but he is still widely venerated in Ireland and around the world today.

1 comment:

Francis Pruett said...

Hi Laura! This is a wonderful post. Do you mind if I share this? Also, if you have any sources, then that would be nice to post, too. The day approaches and I wanted to share this so that people could know something of history outside of the party atmosphere the man's remembrance date manifests nowadays.