Outside of Biblical figures, St. Patrick of Ireland is perhaps one of the most widely-recognized figures in all of Christianity and the anniversary of his death that occurred on March 17, 461 A.D. is celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day.
Interestingly — since he’s so widely venerated in Irish culture — the fact is that he wasn’t even Irish.
He was born into a wealthy family in England and his real name was Maewyn Succat. Oddly, it was the “wealthy family” part that yanked him over to Ireland when Irish raiders attacked the family estate and took him captive as a slave at age 16.
His father was a Christian deacon, and Maewyn would spend six years as a slave — his job was that of shepherd — meaning he was alone with the flock most of the time. That of course gave him plenty of time for contemplation and it’s believed that during that period he became a devout Christian.
History.com says, “After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he believed to be God’s—spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.
“To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary.”
He spent approximately 15 years studying and practicing, and when he was ordained as a priest, he returned to Ireland and began to convert the pagan people there to Christianity. Centuries later, evidence of his success is that Ireland is one of the most Christian countries in the world.
One of the most famous myths surrounding St. Patrick — he got that title after he died and was buried at Downpatrick, by the way — is that he drove all the snakes out of Ireland.
In an article about St. Patrick by James Owen in National Geographic, he writes, “…snakes were certainly not chased out of Ireland by St. Patrick, who had nothing to do with Ireland's snake-free status."
In that same article, Owen writes, “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.”
The main thing is that St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most celebrated days of the year and here are a few fun facts relating to St. Patrick from History.com:
• Each year 5.5 million people visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City
• There are more than 450 churches named after St. Patrick in the United States
• St. Patrick consecrated more than 350 Bishops
• Legend has it that St. Patrick baptized some 12,000 people in a single day around 434 A.D near Killala, Ireland
• Each year, between 150,000-200,000 marchers participate in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade
• There are annually approximately 2 million spectators at the parade
• Nearly 122 million Americans — 39 percent of the population — say they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day
• It is estimated that $4.14 billion is spent annually around the celebration
• Americans exchange about 8 million St. Patrick’s Day cards each year.