Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick

The Feast Day of St Patrick, one of the Patron saints of Ireland (can you name the other(s)?), was actually not Irish. He was born in modern day Scotland to Roman parents who were Christians, and was kidnapped and taken into slavery in Ireland when we was about 18 years old. He managed to escape, and returned to England briefly before taking Holy Orders and returning as a missionary to Ireland.

There is quite a bit of myth and legend surrounding Patrick, mostly thanks to the embellished medieval hagiographies written about him some centuries later. An excellent essay that speaks about Patrick and some of the myths and legends surrounding here can be found here. Some of that information there is a bit dated, but its a good synopsis.

There are two known writings by St. Patrick that scholars agree to be genuine. One is St. Patrick's Confession, which is a very interesting autobiography that can be found here in its entirety. It is relatively short, but fascinating. There is also a pastoral letter from Patrick to a Coroticus that can be found here. There are other letters and works attributed to Patrick, but there is little academic support that any of those are authentic.

St Patrick is probably best known for explaining the Trinity using a Shamrock (see icon) and the Hymn/Prayer known as St. Patrick's breastplate. Ironically, scholars believe the St. Patrick's Breastplate did not likely originate with St. Patrick himself, as no copies or mentions of it exist prior to the 7th Century. Likewise, whether Patrick actually used a shamrock to explain the Trinity is also a church tradition with little historical backing. That could be true or not. But it does make a fun story. 

Even though Patrick likely did not write the St Patrick's Breastplate, here is the opening verse anyway in English and original Irish. It is excellent. 

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

Atomriug indiu
niurt tréun:
togairm Trindóit
faístin Oendatad,
i nDúlemon dáil.

Unfortunately in America, St. Patty's Day has become marked as an occasion to pretend you are Irish for a day and go out drinking. Being Irish for centuries was more of a curse than lucky. (In the Old South, for instance, the Irish often got jobs that slave owners would not even let their slaves do, like clearing the rice patties in South Carolina from alligators.) Likewise, until very recent times, St Patrick's day in Ireland was a high patronal feast day, as so all pubs and places that sold alcohol were closed.

I hope I did not spoil your fun. Happy St. Patrick's Day anyway!
-The Archer

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