St. Patrick, celebrated today with oceans of green beer and a mountain of lively shamrock attire, was Ireland’s patron saint. He used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, and is said to have driven the snakes from the land.
The business about snakes is folklore; snakes were never there to begin with. But there’s another fact about St. Patrick that may take you by surprise.
He wasn’t actually Irish. Not originally, anyway.
According to a confession he is said to have written, he was born in the English county of Northamptonshire and brought to Ireland in bondage.
“I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many,” begins the confession, translated from the original Latin and available here via the Royal Irish Academy. “I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments.”
His faith blossomed during his time in captivity.
“After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day,” he wrote. “More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realize now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.”
He did make it back to England, but he returned to the Emerald Isle of his own volition. He is said to have introduced Christianity to Ireland, starting about A.D. 450.
This slab in St. Patrick’s Cathedral is said to have been the cover of the ancient well St. Patrick used to baptize Christians into the faith. If you ever visit the Republic of Ireland, a visit to the Cathedral in the heart of Dublin is as fascinating historically as it is awe-inspiring spiritually. Learn more about the Cathedral here.