Is that a load of blarney?? No. Okay, many of you probably knew that, but I confess that I did not, or that I had forgotten. St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was born in some part of Britain while it was under Roman occupation. It’s not known for sure whether his parents, Calpornius and Concessa, were also born in Britain, or Italy. Little is known about his family and upbringing; his biography, Confession, gives some details, but for the most part is pretty vague about locations and dates.
So, what do we know about this very popular (especially in March) and beloved saint? He was born around 390 in a settlement called Bannaventa. His father was a deacon, and Patrick was raised in the Christian faith, although he was admittedly not very devout. Around the age of 16, he was captured by raiders and taken across the sea to Ireland, where he was held as a slave for six years. While there, he tended livestock and lived a rough existence, in the elements, with little food or creature comforts. He spent a great deal of this time in prayer, which seemed to help him transcend his situation and find relief, and led him to a much stronger faith. At some point, he is either freed or he escapes, and he makes his way back to Bannaventa. He decides that the faith is his calling, and goes to Auxerre (then part of Gaul, now part of France) and gets some proper training in it. He eventually gets appointed to go back to Ireland, as the successor to the first bishop there who had passed away, and Patrick makes his way there around 435. He founded his chief church in Armagh, in Northern Ireland, and spent the next decades traveling the country, spreading the word and tending to his flock (of people, this time). He died on March 17, 461, in a small town called Saul, Northern Ireland…and now we all have St. Patrick’s Day.
How does that turn into masses of people all over the world wearing and drinking green things? Irish fairies! No. Rather, at some time in the past, St. Patrick’s sacred day became a secular holiday, when people of Irish descent began to use the day to come together, be vocal, and celebrate their heritage. They sham-rocked their national and religious pride with liberal amounts of green, which is one part of the Irish flag, and overall indicative of the Emerald Isle (Patrick was actually partial to blue). Then, I guess, others started to notice what a good time they were having, and everyone joined in.
Other fun facts related to St. Patrick:
- he is the patron saint of Nigeria
- he apparently did something as a young lad that, later in life, almost got him defrocked
- the church that sits on the spot of Patrick’s church in Armagh is now the seat of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), while the seat of the Catholic Church of Ireland sits across the way
- in his Confession he says he is from Bannavem Taberniae, which is often translated into Bannaventa Berniae. There was a Bannaventa in Roman Britain, but it was mid-country and not really accessible to raiders at all (so, no seafaring kidnappers). Rather, he may have been from Banwell, in Somerset, on the west coast of England. It is near other locations that echo the name of his birthplace, such as Winthill (venta) and three fields with the name Bairn in them (berniae). What is interesting about that, you ask? Well! Banwell is very near (like, 5 miles away) the village of Cheddar, and the Cheddar caves. Which is where Cheddar cheese has been made since the 12th century. And, while there is already a patron saint of cheesemakers and mongers, I don’t think there is one for grilled cheese sandwiches…yet.