He drove away pagans, not snakes

by Kristen MacBride

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

If asked to paint a mental image of St. Patrick, not much more would likely come to mind than some variation of a jolly, redheaded leprechaun dressed in green and adorned with shamrocks. This fabricated, modernized image is a nearly synonymous icon to the holiday celebrated with green beer and corned beef. But the true story of St. Patrick is far from his characteristic jovial, green-loving image of today.

There are several long-standing myths that have skewed the true story of this pious saint. One of the most common myths is he came to Ireland and eradicated all the snakes contaminating the country’s towns and streets. However, Ireland has no indigenous snakes, making this is more a symbolic association of the “evil” Irish pagans being dirty snakes who were converted by St. Patrick.

But the stories don’t stop there. St. Patrick is commonly believed to have introduced the iconic shamrock to which he is so famously associated. Legend claims he first introduced the shamrock plant to the Irish people as an effective instrument to teach the concept of Christianity’s trinity, thus binding the symbol with him ever since. St. Patrick did use the shamrock to reach the Irish people, but only because he knew it had been revered and established as a good luck charm in the hearts and minds of the Irish many years prior.

Myth and legend seem to add novelty and excitement to saints’ often dull historical counterparts, but St. Patrick’s real story is just as captivating as the famous, albeit misunderstood, figure he is today. Born 387 A.D.in Britain, St. Patrick lived a comfortable life with the promise of a bright and successful future. However, this life was promptly shattered when he was ripped apart from his home at the age of 16 by Irish raiders. He was then transported to Ireland and forced to suffer harsh conditions on a remote sheep farm.

During his seemingly endless misery and isolation, St. Patrick turned to God for salvation and promise. He filled his days with prayer and claimed to feel the Holy Spirit thriving feverishly within him. His passionate prayer evolved to dreams in which a divine spirit told him he must escape Ireland and return to Britain. After six years, St. Patrick fled 200 miles to the coast of Ireland, escaping his slavery and returning to his old life in the town of his youth.

Upon his return, he was visited again by the spirit in a dream telling him he must one day return to Ireland as a missionary. This prompted him to begin multiple religious journeys, and continue his religious practice. After his ordination as a priest, he returned to Ireland to fulfill his divine mission.

For 40 years he successfully preached to and converted thousands of Irish people, and built hundreds of churches throughout Ireland. St. Patrick’s success in spreading Christianity, and converting the Irish people, was derived from his knowledge of the old Irish beliefs and the culture he absorbed during his enslavement. He preached Christianity through the ideals and values held by the Irish, allowing them a clearer avenue to embrace the religious transformation he brought to their country.