Today, March 17th, is Saint Patrick’s Day. But what is Saint Patrick’s Day really about? Who was this Saint Patrick fellow any way?
In the United States, Saint Patrick’s Day is generally looked at as a day when people wear the color green and drink green beer. It is a celebration of all things green, a color long associated with Ireland. So, Saint Patrick must have been Irish, right?
Most would find that a safe assumption to make, but they would be wrong. Saint Patrick was British. Or, more accurately, Patrick was a Romano-Briton. As we’re speaking of dates long in the past, there are many things about his life that are uncertain. I will try to avoid specifics, as scholars have devoted many long hours to the subject and cannot give precise dates.
Born in the later portions of the 4th century in Roman Britain, Patrick lived at a time of drastic changes in the world. Patrick states in his Confession that he was born at Bannavem Taburniae, an otherwise unknown settlement, likely located in western Britain. His father, Calpurnius, was a Roman patrician of some standing, he was a deacon and a decurion. You might think that life would be grand for a young Roman nobleman. Unfortunately for Patrick, during his youth the Roman Empire was well on it’s way to collapse. While there is no exact defined date for the fall of the Roman Empire, it occurred at some point during the 5th Century and the problems the empire faced as a whole caused them to simply abandon Britain, with all Roman soldiers being completely withdrawn from the territory by 410.
With the soldiers gone, the small Roman settlements, such as Bannavem Taburniae made a rather inviting target to raiders. When Patrick was 16 years old, his home was attacked, and he was carried off to slavery in Ireland.
Some time later, Patrick escaped from his slavery. He returned to Britain and trained to be a priest. We do not know for certain at what point Patrick returned to Ireland, but eventually Patrick was appointed Bishop of Ireland. Rather than simply presiding over the existing Christians in Ireland, Patrick made it his life’s work to spread the Gospel among the Irish, converting many to Christianity. He reportedly used the three-leafed clover as an example to explain the doctrine of the trinity to the Irish.
While there are few firm details about Saint Patrick’s life, there are numerous legends. One such example is that Patrick drove all snakes from the island. Most of these are assuredly false, but there may be some basis to some of them. Two examples of Patrick’s writings contain basically all of the factually information we can glean about the real Saint Patrick: his Confession and his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.
This Saint Patrick’s Day, I fully intend to think more about the man for whom the holiday is named than about the green beer (although I might partake of some of that too). If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend you check out Saint Patrick by Jonathan Rogers. It is an insightful little book that provides as much fact about Saint Patrick as can be found without stuffing it up with absurd legends. It also contains the text of both of Patrick’s existing writings. If you’re looking to learn more about the real Saint Patrick, I heartily recommend you check it out.
Read more about the book at The Rabbit Room – Book Release: Saint Patrick by Jonathan Rogers. You can also purchase a signed copy of the book there.