The History of Saint Patrick’s Day

March 20, 2013 in Publisher's Corner

A Field of CloversSaint Patrick was born in the fourth century to a wealthy Roman-Briton family.  His family had a tradition of service to Mother Church. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. This was before the prohibition on clerical marriage.

When Patrick was 16, he was abducted by Irish raiders and brought to Ireland to serve as a slave. He managed to escape captivity but later returned as a Christian missionary to Ireland. Patrick is said to have used the three leaves of a shamrock to demonstrate the Holy Trinity to the then pagan Irish: Father, Son And Holy Ghost, separate, yet one. The shamrock has become an icon of this religious feast.

St. Patrick’s Day falls during the Lenten season. However, the Church lifted the restrictions on eating meat and imbibing alcohol on this one day. The day has itself has come to be associated with the celebratory consumption of alcohol. The Irish themselves would go to mass in the morning and then celebrate more ebulliently afterward.

It was in 432 A.D. that Patrick, or Pádraig in native Irish, returned to Ireland as a bishop to Christianize the polytheistic Irish. He never was officially canonized, and remains a saint by tradition.

According to writer Ken Concannon,  “There was no formal canonization process in the Church during its first millennium. In the early years of the Church the title saint was bestowed first upon martyrs, and then upon individuals recognized by tradition as being exceptionally holy during their lifetimes.

“Consequently these Irish saints, including St. Patrick, were never actually formally canonized — save one. The exception was Fergal, also known as St. Virgil of Salzburg, an 8th century missionary scholar who was officially canonized in 1233 by Pope Gregory IX. Virgil is one of only four Irish saints to be canonized by Rome.”

In 1996, the first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held. Next year, in 1997, it grew to be a three-day celebration. By 2000 it extended to four days. In 2006, it became five days in length. The Skyfest, an annual fireworks display with music, accompanies the festival in Ireland.