A holiday that has become highly popular and secularized is St. Patrick’s Day. There are often parades, green, shamrocks, leprechauns, and copious amounts of green beer. However, there is a much more somber history behind the legend of St. Patrick and most of what is celebrated today is based on myth.
First, St. Patrick was not Irish. He was born in Britain around 390 BC to a wealthy family. Around the age of 16, he was captured by Irish pirates, taken back to Ireland and enslaved as a shepherd for about 6 years. He managed to escape and returned to Britain, where he received religious instruction.
St. Patrick also did not introduce Christianity to Ireland. The Pope sent Bishop Palladius to Ireland before Patrick. So some Irish were already converted by the time that St. Patrick made his journey to the Emerald Isle.
Perhaps one of the most famous legends associated with the Saint, is that he drove the all snakes from Ireland. Ireland IS in fact a snake-less land, but not necessarily because of a sermon that Patrick delivered on a hillside. Ireland has been surrounded by water since the glacial period and before that, it was covered in ice and water, therefore making it inhabitable but the cold blooded reptiles. The snake story is most likely a metaphor. Before Christianity came to Ireland, many pagan sects worshipped a goddess, whose symbol was a serpent. There was also a cult known as Crom Cruaich that practiced human sacrifice to a serpent God. This is most likely the explanation for the famous “driving out of snakes” that is often connected with St. Patrick.
Patrick never fully recovered from his early capture and role of servitude in Ireland. As a result of his time spent enslaved, he never received a full formal education and felt ostracized upon his return to Britain. Many of his former friends had gone on to higher education and were often in prominent positions, while Patrick had poor writing and oratory skills. This early trauma left him with deep convictions in his faith that lead him to return to Ireland and become missionary and later Bishop.
So remember, that while you may be pinched for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, the story behind the holiday goes beyond commonly held folklore.