Sunday, March 17, 2013

The origins and legends of St. Patrick's Day - by Vijaya Schartz

There are many legends and traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day. Who was the real St. Patrick?

St. Patrick was not actually Irish. he was born around 373 A.D. in the British Isles near the modern city of Dumbarton in Scotland. His real name was Maewyn Succat. He took the name of Patrick, or Patricius, meaning "well-born" in Latin, after he became a priest.

During Patrick's boyhood, the Roman empire was near collapse and too weak to defend its holdings in distant lands. Britain became easy prey for raiders, including those who crossed the Irish sea from the land known as Hibernia or Ireland. When Patrick was sixteen, he was seized by raiders and carried off to Ireland.

After years of guarding sheep, the slave escaped to return much later as a man of God, now a bishop, called by a dream.

For the next 30 years he converted Ireland to Christianity.

It is believed that in 441 A.D., St. Patrick fasted and prayed for 40 days at the summit of Croagh Patrick ("the Reek") in County Mayo. During this time, as blackbirds assaulted him, St. Patrick continued to pray and ring a bell as a proclamation of his faith. In answer to his prayers, an angel appeared to tell him that the Irish people would retain their Christian faith for all time. Today, more than 100,000 pilgrims visit the Reek annually to follow in St. Patrick's footsteps. Traditionally, pilgrims ascend the rocky trail barefoot. 

It was while atop the mountain that St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland to the sea. Historians generally agree that this myth serves as a metaphor for St. Patrick's good works. Since snakes are a common pagan symbol — and are not found in Ireland — this tale symbolizes St. Patrick's driving paganism out of Ireland. 

It is said that the saint used the shamrock as a symbol of the trinity. Christians wore it like the sign of the cross. The Druids believed a four-leaf shamrock could ward off witches.

The old saint died in his beloved Ireland on March 17th, 460 A.D. Most of what is known about St. Patrick comes from his own Confession, written in his old age.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick

 Check out my medieval legends series THE CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE on Amazon HERE 


  1. Thanks for the information. It's always interesting to hear how holidays began!

  2. How legends/myths begin is fascinating. I wonder what St. Patrick would think now about his holiday developed and is celebrated?

  3. Thanks for commenting, Melissa.
    Marianne, St Patrick would be stunned to see how we celebrate him today. Green beer?