Who was Saint Patrick?

St. Patrick’s day is coming up soon on March 17th. I must confess that I never knew anything about the actual man. I knew that St. Patrick’s day was a day where you wore green on pain of pinching and most people drank things that were not TFC appropriate. But that was the extent of my knowledge until I took some church history classes. What I found out about St. Patrick and his holiday was that we know very little about St. Patrick, and that St. Patrick’s day is the day he supposedly died. St. Patrick is truly a man of mystery. So here’s a few facts about the famous bishop of Ireland and his holiday.

Patrick was born sometime around the late 4th century. Around the age of sixteen he was captured and sold as a slave. He escaped several years later and returned to his family, but eventually came back to where he had been enslaved in Ireland and was ordained a bishop.

According to legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock as an illustration for the trinity, since the shamrock is one clover with three leaves.

Also according to legend, St. Patrick is said to have banished all the snakes from Ireland when they attacked him during a long fast.

When he died is a matter of historical speculation, but it is generally agreed that he died in the second half of the 5th century. March 17th is thought to be the day he died.

The St. Patrick’s day pinching that one receives if not wearing green is an American tradition having nothing to do with St. Patrick. It was thought that Leprechauns made their roundabouts on St. Patrick’s day, pinching everyone whom they could see, and green (somehow) made people invisible to them. The pinches were to remind you of the malicious Leprechauns who were bound to pinch you if you were visible to them.

In short, we know very little about St. Patrick. Most of the stories surrounding him are mixtures of legend, myth, and history. The holiday that celebrates his death has very little to do with him and what he did. This St. Patrick’s day, think about he did do: he served as God’s missionary and bishop to a people group that needed it. He didn’t hop around gleefully with green leprechauns pinching people.