Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick: the stories behind the legends

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland along with Saint Brigit and Saint Columba. According to the Confession of Patrick, he was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 from his home in Great Britain. He became a slave in Ireland until he was able to escape and return home 6 years later. After becoming a cleric, he would return to Ireland. However, little is known about where he actually worked in Ireland, By the 7th century, Patrick would be revered as the patron saint and March 17th would be honored in his name.

The shamrock is one of the symbols associated with Patrick. It is the national plant of Ireland due to its association with Saint Patrick as well as it grows in abundance on the island, According to legend, Patrick taught the doctrine of the Holy Trinity with a shamrock. There is little evidence to indicate if the Irish Celts held the shamrock in high regard; however, many of the deities in their mythology were in threes. For instance, Brigit (or Brigid or Brig) is a goddess depicted as a triple deity. She is associated with the spring, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. The idea of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could have been an easy concept that the Irish Celts would understand.

Another legend linked to Saint Patrick is the banishment of all snakes from Ireland. According to legend, Patrick chased the snakes to the sea after they attacked him during a 40 day fast. The absence of snakes in Ireland have given rise to this legend; however, all evidence suggests that Ireland never had snakes. The simple answer is geography. Snakes can be found virtually everywhere on Earth except Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. All these areas are surrounded by water. The theory is that no serpent has successfully migrated across the open ocean to these areas. Even when land bridges were created with the falling ocean levels, snakes would not have survived the Ice Age of Ireland. Why the legend? Snakes present evil in Judeo-Christian traditions as well as paganism. The image of Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland in a sense he banished evil and paganism from the Emerald Isle.

Saint Patrick has become synonymous with Ireland and the Irish heritage identity. That associations was brought to America with the Irish immigrants of the 19th century. Despite its religious origins, Saint Patrick’s Day is primarily celebrated as recognition of Irish and Irish Americans. For one day, everyone is Irish. The color green is seen everywhere. Chicago, Illinois dyes the Chicago River green every year. Pubs serve green ales and beers. McDonald’s often will promote their shamrock shakes during March in honor of the holiday. People wear green in order to avoid being pinched. I remember those days in school. Corned beef and cabbage is a popular dish to make in honor of Saint Patrick, although the dish is considered an American addition to the holiday.

To everyone, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!!!