Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day. What was the origin of this day, and who was Saint Patrick? And what in the world does it have to do with leprechauns and shamrocks?
Who was Saint Patrick?
Patrick (c. 387 – 17 March, 493) was a Romanized Celt who grew up in Britain. There are two letters written by him in Latin that have survived and are generally accepted as genuine. The more important of the two, his Confession, gives a brief outline of his history and his missionary work. (You can read it on line here).
His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest, but young Patrick didn’t take his faith very seriously. At about age 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken back to Ireland as a slave. There he was put to work as a herdsman, and was often alone outdoors. During this time prayed daily and his faith grew. After six years he heard a voice speak to him in a dream telling him that his ship was ready. He fled his master and walked 200 miles to the coast where he found a ship that could take him back to Britain, although he had quite a few adventures before he finally arrived at home.
A few years later he had a vision calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He began a period of religious training and was ordained as a priest before returning to the land of his captivity. Now in his mid-40’s, God used his familiarity with Irish language and culture to open a door for the Gospel. He made missionary journeys throughout Ireland and baptized thousands of people and started hundreds of churches. After his death, his missionary bands continued to spread the Gospel in Ireland. A century later the Irish church began sending missions teams to Britain, which was by then dominated by the newly arrived pagan Anglo-Saxons. Soon afterward they began to send missions teams to Continental Europe as well.
Saint Patrick’s Day
Like many saint’s days, Saint Patrick’s Day is the date of his death, March 17. Patrick became known as the patron saint of Ireland and his day gradually became a celebration of Irish culture. Although the color blue was originally associated with Saint Patrick, it soon shifted to green, perhaps influenced by the shamrock that he is said to have used as an illustration to teach pagans about the Trinity. Today the color green is an important part of Saint Patrick’s day, to the point that the Chicago River is dyed green every year on this date.
Unlike Valentine’s Day, we have some real information about the man whose name is associated with this day. I have no interest in leprechauns or shamrocks, much less green beer, but I find the story of Saint Patrick to be inspiring. He returned to share the Gospel with the people who had enslaved him, and was use by God to start a movement that resulted in thousands of people coming to Christ. That’s something worth celebrating.
For further reading:
- Patrick the Saint — stories and legends about Patrick
- Who was Saint Patrick? at History.com
- Wikipedia article on Saint Patrick
- Saint Patrick’s Confession