Saint Patrick: man or myth?

Cole Shoemaker ’20, Opinion Editor

Saint Patrick’s Day is supposedly a celebration of Irish culture, specifically of the eponymous St. Patrick himself, one of Ireland’s patron saints who spread Christianity during the fifth century. However, there are more mysteries surrounding this holy man than one might initially think. For one, St. Patrick is not actually Irish. He was born somewhere near Bristol’s west coast, which is near the southern border of modern day Wales and England. Yet is only the tip of iceberg.

When he was 16 years old, St. Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he labored for six years before escaping to Britain when escaping was suggested to him in a dream. He would return many years later as a 40-year-old man to Christianize the rest of Ireland.

However, the spread of Christianity in the early days of the Common Era wiped out many cultures native to the area. Local deities were reconfigured as terrible demons or just removed altogether, and Ireland faced some of the worst of this.  The reason we know so little and yet so much about Celtic folklore, Ireland’s original native religion, is because that while much of it was wiped out thanks to St. Patrick’s efforts, much of it was written down, albeit altered to fit Christian ideologies.

For example, he allegedly chased the snakes from Ireland. But in reality, according to National Geographic “Ireland is one of only a handful of places worldwide—including New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica—that Indiana Jones and other snake-averse humans can visit without fear. But snakes were certainly not chased out of Ireland by St. Patrick, who had nothing to do with Ireland’s snake-free status.” Historical researchers suggest that the tale is an allegory, since in Christianity snakes are considered to be evil, and the reptiles had prevalence in Celtic rituals, so they were merely metaphorical snakes that St. Patrick chased from Ireland.

Perhaps the most absurd thing about St. Patrick is that he was not actually even a Saint, or named Patrick. He was never canonized into Sainthood by the Catholic Church, and his real name is Maewyn Succat. He adopted the name Patrick upon becoming a priest. This drives home the strangeness about this man, who is not from the culture he represents, actively worked to dismantle said culture, and who we do not even call by his real name. The so-called Saint Patrick, while being a real person, has more of a basis in fiction than fact.

Photo courtesy of timeanddate.com

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