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patron saint of Ireland
Although he is one of the most popular of all saints, as well as the patron saint of Ireland, very little about the life of Saint Patrick is known for certain. He was born at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, Scotland, in 387, to wealthy Romans living in Britain. When he was about 16 years of age, Patrick and several others were captured by an Irish raiding party and taken as slaves to herd and tend sheep. Exactly where he was held has been a matter of debate for centuries, but it is known that he turned to God for strength during this time. After six years in captivity, Patrick escaped after having a dream in which God told him to leave Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him back to Britian, where he reunited with his family.
Some time after returning to Britain, Patrick had another dream in which the people of Ireland were calling out to him "We beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once more." He was subsequently ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, under whom he had studied for years, and, at about age 43, was ordained a Bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland, arriving there in 433.
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. He used the shamrock, a plant familiar to most Irish people, to explain the Trinity, and it has been associated with him and the Irish since that time.
Patrick preached and converted all of Ireland for 40 years. He died at Saul, Downpatrick, on March 17, 461.
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This page was last updated on October 24, 2017.