It’s March 17th!
You know what that means, right?
Happy Maewyn Succat Day!
Wait… What? Don’t know who in the world Maewyn Succat is? Well then, let us explain!
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, no matter the day of the week. This day was chosen for the holiday because it is the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. This year, St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday, March 17, 2022.
The history of St Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, who was born in the second half of the 4th century, is incredibly, and perhaps inevitably, vague. There has always been controversy over his place of origin, his birthname, and his ancestry (English, Welsh, or Scottish). Even the years of his birth and death are still matters of speculation. What little we do know of Patrick’s early life comes from his own pen in two surviving documents: “Confessio” (Confession, a spiritual autobiography) and his much shorter “Epistola to Coroticus”(Letter to Coroticus, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.)
You can read these two works in English here:
- Confessio: https://www.confessio.ie/etexts/confessio_english#
- Epistola to Coroticus: https://www.confessio.ie/etexts/epistola_english#
A little caveat:
According to Edward O’Donnell (Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College) contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick was not the first Christian missionary in Ireland. Some evidence exists of missionaries traveling through Ireland by the late fourth century A.D., but they seemed to have enjoyed little success. The best-known missionary before Patrick was Palladius, sent by Pope Celestine to minister to “the Irish who believe in Christ.” Many scholars believe that at least some of the deeds and accomplishments later attributed to St Patrick were more likely those of Palladius. Some scholars believe that Palladius and Patrick are one and the same individual, while most believe Palladius was unsuccessful (possibly martyred) and Patrick was sent in his place.
Saint Patrick’s real name was probably Maewyn Succat, pronounced as My Win. (“Magonus Succetus” in Latin.) It is uncertain exactly when Maewyn (henceforth Patrick) was born, but it is believed to have been between 385-390 A.D., in the village of Bannaven of Taberniae. Which was somewhere along the north-west coast of the Roman province of Britannia. The actual location of “Bannaven of Taberniae.” has never been securely identified.
Patrick’s father, Calpornius (or Calphurnius, or Calpurnius), was a Roman-British army officer and a decurio (deacon) from a Roman family of high social standing. Patrick’s grandfather, Pontius, was also a member of the clergy, and according to legend, his mother was Conchessa, a niece of the famous St. Martin of Tours (316-397 CE).
For more information on St. Martin of Tours please visit: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Martin-of-Tours
Surprisingly, despite his family’s connection to the church, Patrick himself was not raised with a strong emphasis on religion, nor education apparently. In his “Confessio”, Patrick describes his youth as “not very religious and not very studious“. Later in life, this would become a source of embarrassment for him, he would write “That is why, today, I blush and am afraid to expose my lack of experience, because I can’t express myself with the brief words I would like in my heart and soul.”
When Patrick was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish pirates. They brought him to Ireland where he was sold into slavery in Dalriada. He was sold to a man named Milchu (or Miluic, or Miliue), who was a high priest of Druidism, a Pagan sect that held major religious influence over the country at the time. Patrick worked as a shepherd on Slemish Mountain located in County Antrim. [There is some speculation that Patrick spent his confinement in County Mayo near Killala.]
~~ I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others. We deserved this, because we had gone away from God, and did not keep his commandments. We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved. ~~
During his years of captivity Patrick came to view his enslavement as God’s punishment for his lack of faith, and he became deeply devoted to Christianity through constant prayer. “I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. ” (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the pagan Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)
Around 408 A.D., after more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick received a sign that it was time for him to return to his family. Patrick wrote in the Confessio that an angel appeared in a dream and told him, “You have fasted well. Very soon you will return to your native country.” The angel told him of a Scottish ship leaving Ireland, “I heard a someone saying to me: ’Look – your ship is ready.’”
Patrick re-counts that upon waking from the dream, he immediately set out on foot toward the coast. The young man walked across 200 miles of peat bogs and forests before arriving at a port. He then tried booking passage on a merchant ship heading to Britain but was refused. However, after he was turned away, he prayed for help, and the captain of the ship sent for him to come on board. Three days later they landed on the shores of Britain. Eventually, he was reunited with his family.
Patrick’s family was over-joyed to have him home. “They welcomed me as a son, and they pleaded with me that, after all the many tribulations I had undergone, I should never leave them again.” So, there he remained, at the home of his parents, until another visionary dream moved him to leave. The people of Ireland were calling him back to minister to them about God. However, not feeling prepared for such a mighty task, Patrick sought higher training.
~~ I saw, in a vision in the night, a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it were from Ireland with so many letters they could not be counted. He gave me one of these, and I read the beginning of the letter, the voice of the Irish people. They called out as it were with one voice: “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.” This touched my heart deeply, and I could not read any further; I woke up then.~~
Patrick went to Autissiodurum, Gaul (modern day Auxerre, France) where he studied and entered the priesthood under the guidance of the missionary Saint Germanus (Germain in French.) After a period of religious training, he was ordained a deacon around 418 A.D. and in 432 A.D. he was ordained and consecrated as a bishop to Ireland with the name Patricius, which became Patrick.
Upon his arrival in Ireland, Patrick was initially met with resistance, but his knowledge of Ireland’s language and customs facilitated his work in converting Druid priests, chieftains and aristocrats by the thousands. Patrick managed to spread Christian teachings far and wide (along with other missionaries) through preaching, writing and performing countless baptisms.
Throughout his missionary work, Patrick traveled around Ireland supporting church officials, creating councils, and founding/establishing churches, monasteries and schools. By the time of his death, believed to be March 17, 461 (or 493, depending on which scholars you side with), he had organized Ireland into dioceses and left an ordered Christian church in Ireland as his legacy.
After 40 years of living in poverty, teaching, traveling and working tirelessly, Patrick passed in Saul, where he had built his first church. It is generally accepted (but not proven) that Saint Patrick is buried at Saul Roman Catholic Churchyard Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. His grave was marked in 1990 with a carved memorial stone of Mourne Mountain Granite.
And so, every March 17 this is why Ireland, the Irish around the world, and those who love the Irish spirit, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Happy Maewyn Succat Day!