St. Patrick Didn’t Drink Green Beer

St. Patrick’s life story and journey to sainthood spans from his childhood days as a Roman boy living on an estate in England to his work as a missionary converting pagans to Christianity. The rich stories and adventures in between made him one of the most beloved saints worldwide. As you read this blog, you will discover that his life had little in common with the raucous celebrations held in his name.

In his early years, St. Patrick said he did not know God. In the Confessio, he wrote, “I did not, indeed, know the true God.”  His life changed when as a teenager  he was captured by Irish pirates.


He was taken as a slave and put to work herding sheep and pigs. It is know surprise that alone in the mountains he discovered the Spirit within him.  In the Confessio, he wrote, “I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”

St. Patrick escaped 6 years later. Some sources say he believed he had been kidnapped as punishment for “not knowing God.”  When he arrived back in England, he decided to become a priest.

Despite his traumatic years of slavery in Ireland, he felt called to return their to be a missionary. In the Confessio, he wrote, “I seemed to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’”

St. Patrick returned to Ireland despite the dangers. He was reputedly imprisoned by the pagan chiefs and often bribed them to make things easier.


Pagan Chief

St. Patrick was charged with the task of converting Celts like the one above to Catholicism.  He  did this by using Druid symbols to explain Christianity.


He is perhaps most famous for using the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.

St. Patrick is also famously credited with driving all the snakes from Ireland. In truth, there is no evidence that snakes ever lived on Ireland after the Ice Age. Scholars now consider the snakes a reference to the Druids and their paganism.

patrickherding sheep

St. Patrick is associated with two crosses. The cross pattee and the saltire.


Cross Pattee


The picture below shows St. Patrick in his robe embroidered with the cross pattee.
St. Patrick and St. David can be credited, in part, with bringing Celtic Christianity to Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England.  Because  St. Patrick focused on teaching and preserving the native culture, he was able to connect with the Irish people. Up until the sixth century, Christianity existed right alongside pagan rites. Celtic Christianity is seeped into the connection to the natural world. In the Confessio, St. Patrick wrote:” ... after I had come to Ireland I daily used to feed cattle, and I prayed frequently during the day; the love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and the faith became stronger, and the spirit was stirred; so that in one day I said about a hundred prayers, and in the night nearly the same; so that I used to remain in the woods and in the mountains … “
This often quoted segment of St. Patrick’s Breastplate captures the essence of this famous saint and his beliefs.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger….

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone. Since St.Patrick was careful to respect the native culture of Ireland, I suspect he wouldn’t mind the world celebrating with a little green beer on his behalf.
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