Today’s blog was going to be about supremacy, racism, and human cruelty, but then my dear new friend Khanh Linh asked me about the story of Saint Patrick’s Day. In the interest of full disclosure, she only asked because I first asked her if she knew it, but she says she doesn’t. Actually, as it turns out, neither did I! How funny is that? If I were just having a conversation with Khanh Linh, I would have babbled the St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland story because that’s what I most associate with St. Patrick’s Day and with Saint Patrick himself. And then I would have admitted that this is likely to be a legend and that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland who did many great deeds. And then I would hope she did not ask me what these deeds were.
Well, it turns out that there were never any snakes native to Ireland. So then, what about this Saint guy? Oh, he was a pagan (maybe), but he eventually became a Christian (like his father and grandfather, so maybe he wasn’t a pagan, after all?) and that meant a Catholic then (this was pre-Luther, you see. And that’s Martin Luther, not to be confused with Martin Luther King, Jr.). So anyway, back to Maewyn (as St. Patrick was called before becoming a Christian and taking the name Patrick); turns out he was a slave. This I did not know; he was sold into slavery by Irish marauders. Maybe.
Eventually, he studied to become a deacon and then a bishop. He later became a missionary in Ireland or maybe a bishop in Ireland or maybe the Bishop of Ireland, and he seems (they don’t know for sure) to have set up schools and churches and the like and converted many Irish to Christianity. He died on March 17th, 493 (or not, there’s some dispute about this and one entry in wikipedia contradicts itself, stating 493 in one place and 461 later in the same entry, but unless you’re a scholar of Christianity, Ireland, etc., I doubt it matters a great deal. Well, now. Probably mattered to him and his back then.). Anyway, he died and is still dead. So that’s that part settled. Eventually, he was sainted, then made patron saint of Ireland. And now we all wear green and drink green beer to celebrate his death that we know happened on March 17th of some year in the 400’s.
The snake thing is interesting, but it didn’t happen. And then there’s the whole raising people from the dead thing that Saint Patrick is said to have done (though I guess he was plain old Patrick then or maybe Missionary Patrick or Used to be and Quite Possibly is Bishop Patrick?), but again, not much evidence of that, either. Seems all the best people wanted to raise the dead at some point, but not too many people still believe that Saint Patrick was one who could do so (before he was sainted, obviously, as one can’t be sainted until one’s been dead for . . . well, a while. Again, not too sure about that year thing). Well, okay, so the truth is he was never formally canonized. Which means he’s not actually a saint. But he is dead. That we know for sure. Hardly anyone disagrees on that point.
So in summation, Saint Patrick is a man who was not a saint and did not scare all the snakes from Ireland, nor did he raise the dead. He probably didn’t wear green. He may have used the shamrock to describe the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And he may not have. But if he did, then maybe his followers adopted this as his symbol for his feast day. And maybe not. He was, though, a Christian and a member of the Church who seems almost certainly to have gone to Ireland. So . . . when’s the parade?
(the pics turned into little white boxes with red x’s, so I deleted them, BUT I’m leaving the link below as it’s still live)
These pics were not taken by me and are of the San Fransisco St. Patrick’s Day parade from last year which I did not see. Here’s the link to the pics’ owner taker guy, who is not me and whom I do not know. Of this I am sure.
I make light of it, but this is day of great celebration for many Irish people and people of Irish ancestry around the world: the first celebration in the United States occured in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737 (unsurprising given the large Irish population of Boston that exists to this day). Being of Irish ancestry, I can say that much of the vagueness of the holiday came as a surprise to me, but I’m not sure it matters a great deal. Not really.