Feb 23, 2011

The History of St. Patrick's Day

Quick facts:

  • St. Patrick's Day is celebrated internationally every year on March 17th.
  • Celebrated in honor of St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, who died on March 17th.
  • St. Patrick was a Christian Apostle credited for the conversion of Ireland from paganism.
  • St. Patrick's Day originated as a Catholic holiday but in some places around the world it has gradually become a secular celebration of Irish culture.
Feast Days
Many Christian churches have developed what is known as the calendar of saints. According to Wikipedia, "The calendar of saints is a traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the feast day of said saint. The system arose from the very early Christian custom of annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths, or birth into heaven, and is thus referred to in Latin as dies natalis ("day of birth")." Some of these saints and their feast days are more popular than others such as St. Valentine and St. Patrick.

Much of what the world knows about St. Patrick has been learned from two letters which he wrote, the Declaration (Confessio, in Latin) and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus (Epistola, in Latin). The first letter, called the Declaration, was an autobiography of St. Patrick's life and mission.

St. Patrick's Early Life
St. Patrick was not a native of Ireland. He was born in Roman Britain (presumably Scotland or Wales) during the latter half of the 4th century to a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Catholic Church. St. Patrick's given name was Maewyn Succat but he was later baptized as Patricus. At age sixteen, Irish marauders kidnapped him along with several others and took him to the island of Ireland. There he was sold to a cruel master as a slave to work tending and herding sheep and swine on the Slemish mountainside. According to the Confessio, during his six years of captivity he prayed continually and became very close to God. One night, God came to him in a dream and told him to flee captivity and go to the coast where he would find a ship that would take him back to his homeland. He was then directed by God as he traveled 200 miles on foot to eventually find and receive passage on the ship.

Apostleship and Mission to Ireland
Upon returning to Britain, Patrick felt driven to learn more about the Church and to dedicate his life to God's service. He eventually settled in France and studied in a monastery under St. Germaine, Bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. He spent 20 years as a monk in Marmoutier Abbey, which is where he again received a vision telling him that he should return to Ireland as a missionary to bring Christianity to the pagan people there. In his Confessio he said he heard the voice of the Irish calling to him, "Oh holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more among us."

St. Patrick was not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland but he was the most successful. The story holds that he converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the "Holy Wells" that still bear this name. His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. He is thought to have died on March 17 between the years 463 and 493 AD

Saint Patrick Legends
Stories are told that St. Patrick used the Shamrock to teach the concept of the Holy Trinity to the pagan people. It is said that he held up a shamrock to show how the three leaves are combined to make a single plant just as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost combine to make the Holy Trinity. Although this story is quite widespread there is no official record of it or mention of it in the Confessio.

Another story is told that St. Patrick stood on a hill with a wooden staff and drove all the serpents into the sea, banishing them forever from the shores of Ireland. The truth is that no snakes ever resided in Ireland as there was no way for them to get there through the sea. It is believed that this story is a metaphor for St. Patrick driving paganism from Ireland.

It is also said that St. Patrick was the one who designated February 29, which occurs every four years on Leap Year, as the day when women can propose marriage to a man, known as "The Privilege of Ladies" Day. St. Bridget of Ireland, who is also a patron saint of Ireland, complained to St. Patrick that the women were tired of waiting for marriage proposals and petitioned him to grant that women could propose to men. St. Patrick agreed to give women one day, Leap Day, as that day. It is told that St. Bridget proposed to St. Patrick and he turned her down, promising instead to give her a silk gown and a kiss.

Sources: Wikipedia  Wikipedia  ok50.com  MonthsofEdibleCelebrations  


  1. This is a wonderful write up, I am looking up history on him as well, what an amazing person he was!! Thanks so much for adding this to the party!

  2. Hello! I've been pointing people towards this post as a wonderful summary of the History of St. Patrick's Day. I decided today to start a linky party about St. Patrick's Day's religious roots and observances, and I hope you don't mind that I added you to the linky myself. I hope you don't mind...and if you do please let me know and I'll take it down. No need to add a button unless you wanted to. I just thought this was such a great resource that it would be a great place for people to start.


    ecarian at yahoo dot com

  3. That's awesome Gale! I'll pop over there and check it out. Thanks! Lisa :0)