Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The real Saint Patrick

Today is the Feast of Saint Patrick, Bishop and Missionary to Ireland, 390-461. Parades for the Irish will fill the streets in many cities, tonight many an elbow will be hoisted in his honor, and once upon a time the California State Capitol was lit green (anyone know if they still do that?).

A few churches today will be singing "Saint Patrick's Breastplate," binding themselves unto thee (never mind that he didn't write it), and the legends of Patrick with snakes and shamrocks will be told and embellished once again.

It is all good fun and a great break from the dreariness of Lent. But today I'd like you to also pause and consider the real Patrick and what little we know of him. Patrick is more of an Abraham figure. Born in England, kidnapped to Ireland as a boy, he was a shepherd. He somehow made it back to England as a teenager, and had a conversion experience and took holy orders, becoming a bishop.

Patrick went back to Ireland, where he converted people and their kings to Christianity. He adapted the popular religious customs of the day to Christianity, for example the now-popular Celtic crosses were an adaptation of elaborate Druid markers dotting the countryside.

Though Patrick is the saint of Ireland, he was truly a sojourner in a strange land. He traveled far from home to spread the Gospel, he was doubtless homesick at times, but he went anyway (and I know the feeling well).

Patrick left a few letters and from them it is known that the Irish viewed him as a foreigner (how ironic is that?), and he riled the Irish aristocracy by refusing to accept their gifts. He probably lived more like Saint Francis than as a regal bishop. Much of what we celebrate today in our Celtic Christian tradition we owe to Patrick, and his life and example are truly worth celebrating even without the extra blarney.


Velky Al said...

England is just one possibility of where St Patrick was born, many places have been suggested, from Dumbartonshire in Scotland, to Cornwall.

Also, St Patrick is just one of three of the patron saints of Ireland, the others being Brigit of Kildare and Columcille.

Just out of interest the word verification for this was "deocon"!

Ilana DeBare said...

So that thing about ridding Ireland of snakes... purely legend?

Pam said...

It is a wonderful day to remember a magical climb up Croagh Patrick!