St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have transformed into a spectacle that would likely cause the poor auld saint turn over in his grave if he could see the shenanigans that ensue in his name. Lá Fhéile Pádraig or the Festival of Patrick is far from the holy day of obligation honoring Ireland’s Patron Saint. Catholics and Protestants alike held this day as a religious holiday. The secular folklore and legends that grew from the history of the saint have led to so much imbibing and revelry that some find it hard to believe there was ever such a man.
Comparable to many myths and legends, there is truth to the legend of St Patrick. But the truth has become inaccurate and embroidered leaving doubt as to any veracity in the story. Popular legend is that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland and he used a shamrock to teach the concept of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the pagan Celts of Ireland. Other accounts say that he overthrew pagan idols and won contests against the druids and kings. Regretfully there is no sign of snakes in Ireland nor is there any evidence that discusses the shamrock to teach Christianity. It’s a great yarn that has been told for generations, but it lacks proof.
However, there is a foundation to answer all these questions held by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). We do know for a fact where St. Patrick was born, when and how he arrived in Ireland. We also know he returned to Ireland and became a Christian priest. We know that he had a vision of being called back to Ireland by her people. This vision was to bring him to his mission in Ireland and to convert the Irish to Christianity. What is the evidence?
Patrick’s Own Writings
Miraculously letters by his hand exist that tell us all of this and more. Not only do these documents exist, but they are freely accessible to anyone with access to the internet! There are two Latin works written in Patrick’s own hand. One document is a brief but scorching letter called the Epistola. It is directed against a Britannia Chieftain who ordered the execution and enslavement some of Patrick’s new converts and followers.
My name is Patrick…
I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time.
The second document is the Confessio or Patrick’s biography, again written in his own hand in Latin and translated for us. The Confessio establishes him as the “very first recordable person that we can name for certain in Ireland” (Fischer). The documents have been studied and date most definitely to the fifth century. They have survived all these years, thus, being the oldest text, in any language written in Ireland that still survives.
Myth vs. Reality
Providential for those interested in sorting the fact from fiction as it pertains to Patrick, The Royal Irish Academy http://www.ria.ie/ has created a website that provides for us these two very important texts. Patrick’s two letters proves there was a real man Patrick and represents the truth. But, where did the myth and folklore come in? The Royal Irish Academy has sorted that for us too. An account of Patrick’s life was written some 200 years after his death around the year 680. This document was long-held as the most factual and served a political role of the day to corroborate the role of Armagh as the “Rome of Ireland”. Many of the popular myths of Patrick arise from this document by Muirchú a priest.
So in preparation for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations take a deeper look at who Saint Patrick really was by exploring The St. Patrick’s Confessio Hyperstack http://www.confessio.ie/# . It is a comprehensive and rigorous study of the patron saint of Ireland and is fully accessible to all in Latin, English and several other languages.
The Hyperstack is a great source for researchers as well those with curiosity about the saint. It includes Patrick’s own writings, manuscripts of the Book of Armagh, Patrick’s life as described by priests Muirchú and Tírechán, a study of Patrick in Art, and other commissioned studies. This is a multimedia website that must be explored by anyone interested in our beloved Patrick.
About the HyperStack©/CC 2011 Franz Fischer Royal Irish Academy www.confessio.ie/abouthyperstack#
Photo Credit: By A.Hart, Ecumenical Patriarchate, UK http://www.allmercifulsavior.com/icons/SaintPatrick.jpg