Saint Patrick of Ireland
Part Three of our Three Part Blog Series on Ireland and the Catholic faith of the Emerald Isle
On March 17th, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick of Ireland. From New York City to Dublin to New South Wales, Catholic churches and Cathedrals hold masses in his memory, cities hold St. Patrick Day parades, and while those Irish and non-Irish alike don green, wear shamrocks and join in the festivities, revelry, and more.
While St. Patrick is far from the only national saint revered in Ireland (Saint Columba and Saint Bridgid of Kildaire, for example), the saint known for chasing the snakes out of Ireland has become so infused with Irish Catholic identity that it is difficult to imagine mentioning one without referencing the other! While it is true that even those who are not from Ireland or born of Irish descent can pray to Saint Patrick as their intercessor, it cannot be denied that Ireland indeed holds a special connection to Saint Patrick.
Who is the True St. Patrick?
True, Saint Patrick himself was not Celtic Irish but a Romano-Britain whose family had resettled in England in the early 5th century; his precise birth year is unknown, but it is known that he had been captured by pirates at some point between 430 and 440 AD and brought as a slave to Ireland, where he was put to work tending sheep either near Slemish, County Antrim or Killala Bay, County Mayo. Born into a prominent Christian family; he had been an unobservant Christian prior to his servitude, but received a vision from God and repented, dedicating his life to the Church. Upon escaping from bondage, he returned to his family in Britain and then studied for and was tonsured a priest in Tours in modern-day France, and then was sent back to Ireland for missionary work to evangelize the pagan Celts.
While Saint Patrick met with much hostility upon his return to Ireland, he was ultimately successful in his efforts to illuminate Ireland with the Christian faith. Through his straightforward teachings of the Christian faith, such as utilizing the shamrock to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity and his stubborn tenacity – one legend holds that his walking-stick hewn from an ash-tree actually took root into the ground when he refused to leave a settlement until its inhabitants had embraced Christianity – he won over converts from all ranks and classes of society. While he may not have chased the snakes out of Ireland (the legend may stem from his conflict with the pagan Druids, or as a folk-tale to explain the absence of snakes in Ireland), many locations and place-names keep alive the miracles and acts of Saint Patrick in the years of his ministry. He died a Bishop at an unknown year; possibly being buried at Downpatrick in County Down, and quickly became the patron saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick Today
Today, visitors can retrace the steps of Saint Patrick across Ireland by visiting such places as the Saint Patrick Centre at Downpatrick, or any number of churches and cathedrals that he founded, such as the Cathedral at Armagh or climb the mountain of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in the west of Ireland. Several wells that were blessed by Saint Patrick also exist across the country, among the most famous being Patrick’s Well at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Not far away at the National Museum of Ireland you can also find the Bell Shrine of Saint Patrick, a relic encased in a special miniature “shrine” and kept on display as a national treasure.
Whether you are Irish or just have a desire to have Saint Patrick intercede in your life; a visit to Ireland will most certainly help you draw closer to one of Christianity’s greatest saints, and have greater respect for the beauty of the land, culture, history and people of Ireland.
A Prayer to St. Patrick, also known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.
Discover the secrets of the Emerald Isle through a pilgrimage to Ireland! For more information on how to plan your next pilgrimage, contact Tony@goodshepherdtravel.com.