5 Interesting Facts About Saint Patrick

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(Photo: Wikimedia/Sicarr)Saint Patrick, the fifth century missionary who converted much of Ireland to Christianity.

Some see it as a day for heavy drinking. Others see it as a day for honoring the memory of a famous saint of the early church. And others see it for both.

Across the world, people will celebrate Saint Patrick's Day on Friday. It is a day set aside in memory of the 5th century church leader credited with converting Ireland to Christianity.

But who exactly was St. Patrick? Few exact details are known about the life of the man and some of those have recently been disputed by at least one scholar.

The story goes that Patrick was a native of Great Britain who was enslaved as a teenager by pirates, sent to Ireland, had a deep religious experience while in captivity, and later returned to Ireland as an adult who converted much of the island to Christianity. 

Below are five interesting facts about St. Patrick, including parts of his personal history and a correction to a common misconception.

1. Technically Not a Saint

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(Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi)A picture of the Vatican

While it is hard to fathom considering Saint Patrick anything other than a saint, technically when it comes to official sainthood according to the Roman Catholic Church, Patrick is NOT a saint.

At the least, he is not a saint in the official ordained recognized manner as a figure like St. Paul of Tarsus, St. Francis of Assisi or Saint Teresa of Calcutta. 

"The modern canonization procedure was not developed by the Church until about the 13th century," explained historian William Carroll in a Q&A for the Catholic network EWTN.

"Before that, a popular veneration of a saint would develop, which the Church eventually approved or disapproved, often not specifically declaring approval or disapproval, but just allowing it to continue if they approved of it."

2. Never Drove Out Snakes

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(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mariluna)A python is shown in this file photo.

According to legend, in the fifth century Saint Patrick miraculously banned snakes from Ireland, driving out the ones that were there.

However, as noted by a 2014 article by National Geographic, this is unlikely given that the island Patrick is associated with never had a snake population in the first place.

"Snakes likely couldn't reach Ireland. Most scientists point to the most recent Ice Age, which kept the island too cold for reptiles until it ended 10,000 years ago. After the Ice Age, surrounding seas may have kept snakes from colonizing the Emerald Isle," noted National Geographic.

"Other reptiles didn't make it either, except for one: the common or viviparous lizard. Ireland's only native reptile, the species must have arrived within the last 10,000 years ..."

3. The Breastplate Hymn

In addition to his evangelism of the Irish and holding official church office, Saint Patrick is credited with having written a poem.

It was titled "The Lorica of Saint Patrick" or "Saint Patrick's Breastplate." A "lorica" is defined as a mystical garment meant to protect the wearer from evil.

The Lorica poem was later adapted into a hymn text in 1889 by Cecil Alexander titled "I Bind Unto Myself Today," with Charles V. Stanford writing the melody.

"I Bind Unto Myself Today", a hymn whose text is attributed to Saint Patrick, as performed by the Choir of Keble College.

4. Christianity Existed in Ireland Before St. Patrick Arrived

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(Photo: CCC)Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland.

Saint Patrick is often credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland. While the saint definitely helped spread the faith, evidence from the fifth century indicates that Christianity already existed in the Emerald Isle by the time Patrick arrived.

One example of this is Saint Palladius, the lesser-known first bishop of Ireland. In 431, a year before Patrick set out for Ireland, Pope Celestine sent Palladius to Ireland specifically to be their new bishop.

"[Saints] Albeus, Declan, Ibar, and Kiaran Saigir ... preached separately in different parts of Ireland, which was their native country, before the mission of St. Patrick," noted the Rev. Alban Butler in his book The Lives of the Saints.

"St. Kiaran Saigir (who is commemorated on the 5th of March) preceded St. Patrick in preaching the gospel to the Ossorians, and was seventy-five years of age on St. Patrick's arrival in Ireland. Hence it is easy to understand what is said of St. Palladius, that he was sent bishop to the Scots believing in Christ: though the number of Christians among them must have been then very small."


5. Died on March 17

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Every year, St. Patrick's Day falls on March 17. This is because March 17, 461 is believed to be the day that Patrick died.

Patrick's place of death was recorded as being Saul, Downpatrick, the place for which he planted his first church and located in the modern day Republic of Northern Ireland.

Patrick is not the only saint to have his death day be his feast day. Saint Valentine's Day falls on the anniversary of the day believed to be when Saint Valentine was martyred for his faith.

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