Article - St. Patrick by Robert Wallis

St. Patrick
By Robert Wallis

St. Patrick is known by all, but most don’t realize the time frame he lived in. He was born around 380 AD in what was probably Wales, in Great Britain. Putting this into the context of the times, the Roman Empire was still in existence and beginning to contract and would leave Britain in the near future. The time attributed to King Arthur took place nearly forty years later. Patrick himself was born into a Romano-Briton family of well to do means. At the age of sixteen he was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave. He spent the next six years as a shepherd, and was finally able to escape after receiving a vision that told him to start walking to one of the eastern seaports where he was able to talk a ship’s captain into giving him passage to Britain.

After becoming a Christian, he was called to return to Ireland as a missionary and spent the remainder of his life there, finally passing away in about 460 AD. By this time, Rome had fallen and had been sacked by the Visigoths in 410, by the Vandals in 455, and by Odoacer, a German chieftain in 476 which was considered to be the final collapse of the western Empire. All this gives a good flavor for the times Patrick lived in and a good historical context to when he lived.

Some of the symbols associated with St. Patrick include the shamrock which was famously used to explain the trinity to the pagan Irish. What gets overlooked frequently is that the Irish were already familiar with a concept of a triune deity through their own pantheon including several versions of Triple Goddesses such as Brigid, Ériu, and the Morrigan.

Another frequent legend of St. Patrick is that of him banishing snakes from Ireland. The archeological record doesn’t show snakes ever being in Ireland, so that one seems a bit suspect. One writer suggests that the legend refers to the banishing of the snake symbols used by the Druids, who were antagonists of Patrick. Converting masses of Irish to Christianity and the defeat of the Druids seems a much more plausible explanation of how that legend came about.

Saint Patrick returned to Ireland several years after his escape from slavery and, using the knowledge of Irish language and culture that he gained during his captivity, brought Christianity and monasticism to Ireland in the form of more than 300 churches and over 100,000 Irish baptized.

St. Patrick is said to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Brigid and St. Columba, although this has never been proven. Saint Patrick Visitor Center is a modern exhibition complex located in Downpatrick and is a permanent interpretative exhibition center featuring interactive displays on the life and story of Saint Patrick. It provides the only permanent exhibition center in the world devoted to Saint Patrick.