PICKENS COUNTY — What comes to mind when you think about St. Patrick’s Day? Leprechauns and pots of gold? Green beer with corned beef and cabbage? Four leaf clovers and pinching people who neglected to don emerald attire?
How about the man himself? What do you really know about St. Patrick? Probably not as much as you think …
Everyone knows the story: Patrick was an Irish saint who rid the land of snakes. Right? Not even close. For one — and prepare to have your mind blown — not only was “Patrick” not his real name, the man wasn’t even Irish.
Wait, what? It gets better. He’s not a saint. At least, not officially.
The man known today as St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat to a wealthy Romano-Briton family in the Roman province of Britannia.
His mother was named Contessa and apparently sainthood was a family tradition as she was also a close relation to Saint Martin of Tours. His father, a Roman named Calpurnius, was a church deacon.
Despite his religious background, Maewyn himself was not involved in the church in his youth. According to his autobiography “Confessio,” Maewyn described his younger years as “not very religious and not very studious.”
So what changed? Well, getting captured by pirates as a teenager apparently can have a profound affect on a person.
Irish pirates (yes, that was a thing) captured Maewyn when he was 16-years-old. He was shipped to Ireland and subsequently sold into slavery. It was during this time Maewyn learned the language and customs of the people who held him, the Irish.
For the next six years, Maewyn worked as a shepherd for a local chieftain and it was then that he began to develop his faith in God.
After having a dream/vision from God that told him to leave Ireland by escaping to the coast, Maewyn fled from captivity at the age of 22 and found a ship to take him back to his family.
By the time he arrived back in Britannia, Maewyn Succat had decided that he wanted to be a priest.
Maewyn went to Gaul and began his studies for the priesthood under St, Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre. After he was ordained in 417 C.E., Maewyn spent over a decade as a disciple of Germanus. Finally, in 432 C.E., Pope Celestine gave Maewyn Succat the baptismal name of “Patricius,” consecrated him as Bishop, and sent him to take the Gospel to Ireland.
Patrick had arrived.
Over the next three decades, Patrick and his growing number of disciples traveled all throughout Ireland preaching, converting and baptizing along the way.
Historians now believe much of Patrick’s success was due to his tolerance of Celtic beliefs. Unlike other missionaries who had tried (and failed) to convert the Emerald Isle to Christianity, Patrick did not condemn the Celtic beliefs of the Irish but instead assimilated their practices into the church: Celtic sacred wells became Holy Wells dedicated to the saints, Druid oak groves became Christian chapels for the Eucharist and so on …
The snake story that he is so famous for, in all likelihood, never happened. Biologists agree that the reason no snakes live in Ireland today isn’t because St. Patrick “drove them into the sea,” but rather that they were never there to begin with.
Patrick died on March 17, 461 C.E. and is believed to be buried at Downpatrick, about two hours North of Dublin in Northern Ireland.
But back to that whole “he’s not a saint” thing … Despite being widely venerated in Ireland and elsewhere today, Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope. (Although his name does appear on the list of saints.)
Despite the — we’ll call it “clerical error” — St. Patrick is still considered to be the patron saint of many things including Ireland, engineers and second chances.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.