15 March 2007

St Patrick's Day

The 17th March is Saint Patrick's Day, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and his day is celebrated by the Irish and their descendants all over the world.

Saint Patrick is believed to have been born in the late fourth century, and is often confused with Palladius, a bishop who was sent by Pope Celestine in 431 to be the first bishop to the Irish. Saint Patrick is often credited with bringing christianity to Ireland.

Most of what is known about him comes from his two works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Epistola, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish christians. Saint Patrick described himself as a "most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped idols and unclean things had become the people of God."

Saint Patrick is popularly known for driving the snakes from Ireland and it is true there are no snakes in Ireland, however there probably never have been as the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the Ice Age! As in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common and often worshipped so driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice. While he wasn't the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, Patrick is said to have encountered the Druids at Tara and converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the "Holy Wells" that still bear this name.

There are several accounts of Saint Patrick's death. One says that Patrick died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on 17th March 460 A.D, where his jawbone was preserved in a silver shrine and was often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits, and as a preservative against the "evil eye". Another account says that St. Patrick ended his days at Glastonbury, England and was buried there and the Chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury Abbey. Today, many Catholic places of worship all around the world are named after St. Patrick, including cathedrals in New York and Dublin city.

Saint Patrick's Day has come to be a celebration of Irish culture and associated with everything Irish, green and gold, shamrocks and luck, since the holiday began in Ireland, it is believed that as the Irish spread out around the world, they took with them their history and celebrations. As St Patrick's day is a religious holiday as well, many Irish attend mass, where March 17th is the traditional day for offering prayers for missionaries worldwide. Big cities and small villages alike celebrate with parades, "wearing of the green", music and songs, Irish food and drink, and activities for kids such as crafts, coloring and games. Some communities even go so far as to dye rivers or streams green!

No comments: