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St. Patrick: The Patron Saint who Converted the Irish to Christianity

Updated on February 12, 2014

The Early Life of St. Patrick

St. Patrick's life is shrouded in mystery, and most of what we believe ourselves to know about him is taken from letters he wrote to his followers.

Much speculation exists as to where St. Patrick was born. Some resources indicate that he was born in Scotland, while others indicate that he was born in England in a town which is now part of Wales. It is believed that he was born some time in the fourth century C.E. probably around 385 C.E.

His father was a Catholic deacon of noble Roman descent, his mother was closely related to a Catholic Saint, and his grandfather was also a member of the clergy. In spite of this, St. Patrick didn't have a religious upbringing. It wasn't until he was taken to Ireland that he found his faith, and the strength in his face to survive slavery.

Patrick had little early education, as there was no emphasis on learning as he was growing up. This may be part of the reason he didn't find himself a particularly religious man until later in his life.

St. Patrick was Taken to Dalriada and Sold into Slavery

Sold Into Slavery at Sixteen Years Old

St. Patrick was captured by pirates when he was sixteen years old and sold into slavery in Dalriada, Ireland. It was here that he would find in his faith the strength to withstand his enslavement and the religious beliefs of his master, a priest of Druidism (the dominant religion of Ireland at the time).

Though he wasn't raised with a religious education, Patrick began to view his enslavement as a test of his faith, issued by God. Because of this belief, he turned to constant prayer as a means of making it through the long days of tending sheep for his master.

This prayer is what carried St. Patrick through his enslavement. He prayed constantly and deepened his faith in Christianity as a result of this constant prayer. During a dream, he had a vision of the children of pagan Ireland reaching out to him, and he knew that he had to bring Christ to the heathen Celts.

St. Patrick is believed to be the originator of the Celtic Cross in Ireland.
St. Patrick is believed to be the originator of the Celtic Cross in Ireland. | Source

Was Patrick right to convert the entire country of Ireland for the Catholic Church?

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The Return to England

It's said that an angel appeared to St. Patrick in a dream, urging him to return to England. Through prayer and a vision he received in a dream, he found his way onto a ship bound for his home country. He sailed with some sailors for three days and then abandoned ship in France, where the troupe wandered, lost, for twenty-eight days.

After covering about 200 miles, wandering, Patrick was finally reunited with his family in England. Convicted, he would eventually return to France so that he could study for the priesthood. Once ordained, he returned to Ireland and his vision of converting the heathens to Catholicism.

Marker at the well where St. Patrick baptized new Catholics
Marker at the well where St. Patrick baptized new Catholics | Source
Stained Glass of St. Patrick
Stained Glass of St. Patrick | Source

St. Patrick's Early Missionary Work

Upon his return to Ireland, Patrick was met with much hostility. The Druids of Ireland weren't eager to convert to this "new" religion, and their religion was an important part of their own cultural heritage. Patrick persisted, teaching the heathens that they were in bondage to druidism and that it was only through Jesus Christ that they would be set free.

Patrick was able to convince the druids through preaching and baptism, and ultimately Ireland was converted for the Catholic Church.

It is widely believed that Patrick used a means of combining the traditions of paganism with the teaching of Christianity (something we're very familiar with today) in order to help to ease the heathen Celts into their new religion. He is believed to be the originator of the Celtic Cross.

Stained Glass of Patrick Preaching to the Kings
Stained Glass of Patrick Preaching to the Kings | Source

The Death of St. Patrick

St. Patrick is believed to have died on March 17th, 461 C.E. This is the date that we celebrate as his Feast Day.

On St. Patrick's Day, many people get dressed in green or celebrate Ireland, but few people understand what they are celebrating. St. Patrick brought Christianity to a heathen land, and this is, in fact, a religious holiday. The next time that you celebrate the revelry of St. Patrick's Day, keep this in mind!

St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography
St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography

From the Amazon Description: "In St. Patrick of Ireland, Philip Freeman brings the historic Patrick and his world vividly to life. Patrick speaks in his own voice in two remarkable letters he wrote about himself and his beliefs, new translations of which are included here and which are still astonishing for their passion and eloquence."

 

St. Patrick Was Never Canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church

Though we refer to Patrick as "saint," he was never officially canonized by the Catholic church (something which may come as a surprise to many). He's considered to be the patron saint of Ireland, but he never received that title in an official capacity.

Because the Catholic Church had no canonization process during the first millennium of its existence, St. Patrick never received the official title of "saint" from the Catholic Church. He is one of several Irish saints never officially canonized.

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti

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