Philip Freeman, leading author and scholar of the enigmatic stories (and often mythical stories; ie. snakes, leprechauns) surrounding St. Patrick's Day, shares with the world St. Patrick's life as the martyr himself shared it through two of his own personal letters.
Here's a brief look into the fascinating man who went from British-Roman aristocracy, to a divinely-touched diehard, who willingly walked (back) into the lion's den with the unwelcomed message of the Gospel.
But first, some fun facts:
- He was not Irish.
- He died March 17; the exact year is unknown but speculated to be in the 460s.
- Earliest images of St. Patrick show him clothed in blue, not green (Irishcentral.com).
- St. Patrick's day is celebrated with parades all over the world, like Singapore and Russia, but the first celebration in America was in 1737 in Boston.
- In 2006, the Chicago River was intentionally dyed green to commemorate the day.
- In 2019, Niagara Falls turned its waters green as well.
- The Irish celebrated St. Patrick's Day as a religious holiday for over 1000 years.
In the fifth-century, St. Patrick, a mere teenager, was taken captive and away from his family. Britain would suffer attacks from the Saxons and Irish during the 360s, and it was in this type of onslaught that disrupted St. Patrick's life of aristocratic comforts.
It began for him an amazing life of the miraculous, the daring, and history-making.
He was sold into harsh slavery and brought to Ireland where he heard God's voice speaking to him personally.
He eventually escaped and went back home to be reunited with his parents. But God's call on St. Patrick caused him to undertake the mission of inserting messages of Christ to the same place in which he was enslaved.
During his passages through the foreign land, he faced much opposition in the environment of pagan gods, and his God was consistently challenged, at which point St. Patrick often put his life on the line.
So how did this man come to have an entire holiday on his own? One in which impels people everywhere to wear green? (Even turn our waters green!)
"What made Patrick successful," Professor Freeman reveals, "was his dogged determination and the courage to face whatever dangers lay ahead, as well as the compassion and forgiveness to work among a people who had brought nothing but pain to his life."
He wasn't the first on a mission to bring Christianity into Ireland, but was an essential figure of Christianity in Ireland, as he baptized and trained thousands of converts.
His life's journey was one that embarked on deeds that caused him to face human fears, hopes, determinations, and reward at their extreme.
While a saint, he was "very much a human being who constantly made mistakes and frequently failed to live up to his own Christian ideals, but he was honest enough to recognize his shortcomings and never allow defeat to rule his life" (Freeman).
This year, 2019, Niagara Falls turns green for St. Patrick's Day. (travelandleisure.com)
Authoritative scholar, David N. Dumville points to a fascinating poem in a text called Lebor na Cert, or Book of Rights, in which the rights of the kings of medieval Ireland are recorded.
(Book of Rights has been a source of substantial study in Irish history; many consider it a historical document.)
The book reveals the "general character of the mutual relations which theoretically bound together the Irish kingdoms," and is an excellent example of how St. Patrick, approximately 600 years after his death, traveled through time even as a literary figure.
Of this section, Prof. Dumville remarks, "he is found coming to convert the vikings of Dublin" (Saint Patrick, 1993).
Here is the poem in Book of Rights, as referenced by Professor Dumville in his Saint Patrick:
"Here is a gay and graceful story, pleasing to the men of Ireland; the revenue of Dublin - I shall not conceal it - as Benen appointed it.
When the Deacon's Grandson [St Patrick] of the goodly household came to Tara in the north, vigorous Laegaire did not believe that apostle of the Britons and of Brega.
That good man, the Deacon's Grandson, went sunrise around radiant Ireland until he reached the fortress of the fair Foreigners, helping the children of the sons of Mil.
The king of stalwart Dublin, when Patrick came south, was alpine son of Aeol Adach of the descendants of Domnall Dubdamach.
On the day when the Patraic of Macha of the great tributes came to Dublin, victorious death carried off the bashful son of Ailpin.
The son of the king of the Foreigners, uncouth Eochaid, is brought to the Deacon's Grandson to trouble and ensnare him: it was an insult to the apostle.
'If you give him life, cleric revered and powerful, I shall bow before you at Coill Chenann, and the Foreigners of the green land will bow."
Philip Freeman's quotes come from Oxford UP.
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