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5 Things to Know About St. Patrick

“There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were.” -Irish saying

Millions of people will be celebrating all things green and Irish on March 17th.  Over the centuries the true meaning of the Christian holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland has been diluted in a sea of green beer, leprechauns and the illusive pot of gold.

Did you know that…

1. St. Patrick was not Irish.

In St. Patrick’s book Three leaves of the Clover the Saint Patrick Story, St. Patrick describes being born in the village of Bannavem Taberniae in circa 385. The exact location of Patrick’s village is still debated; experts believe his village was in England, Scotland, or Wales.

Patrick (probably not his birth surname) was born into a Christian aristocratic family. At sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and forced into slavery for six years. The Christian faith instilled in him as a child, carried him through his captivity. As a slave he served as a shepherd and believed to have heard God telling him to escape. Patrick walked over two hundred miles to the east coast of Ireland and escaped on a ship bound for England.

Upon his return home, Patrick became a priest. Yet, the pagan people of Ireland were never far from his mind. He returned to Ireland to spread the hope we have in Jesus Christ.  St. Patrick served as a missionary to Ireland for over forty years, converting the Celtic pagan country to Christianity.

2. St. Patrick drove out snakes from Ireland is a myth.

St. Patrick did not drive out the snakes from Ireland because snakes were never indigenous to Ireland. Scientists believe the chilly waters surrounding the island are too cold for the reptile animals to migrate and survive. (It is interesting to note other snake free locations include New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica).

3. The shamrock symbolizes the Holy Trinity

While serving as missionary to Ireland, St. Patrick would reach down and pluck a clover plant (shamrock) to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Christians believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Whether St. Patrick was teaching new converts, children, or pagan followers, the simple three leaved plant allowed for a visual explanation of God in three persons. Irish Christians began placing a sprig of clover in the lapel jacket as an outward symbol of their belief in Christ and the Holy Trinity and in honor of St. Patrick the missionary who converted the Emerald Island.

4. St. Patrick defied the king

King Laoghaire of Tara lit a fire each spring symbolizing the beginning of the pagan festival.  King Laoghaire ordered no one to light a fire before him. One night before Easter St. Patrick defied the king and lit his prayer candles anyway. St. Patrick was passionate about God and wanted his light to shine in the face of pagan darkness. King Laoghaire was so impressed by Patrick’s brave defiance he continued to let St. Patrick’s light shine.

5. St. Patrick was the inspiration behind the song Be Thou My Vision

The famous hymn, Be Thou My Vision was originally penned in the Old Irish Gaelic language as an 8th century prayer by monk Dallan Forgaill.

Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile,

Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride. Ni ni nech aile, acht ri secht nime …

In 1905 Mary Elizabeth Byrne, an educator and linguist, translated the prayer, Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile, to the English prose we know as Be Thou my Vision. In 1912 song writer Eleanor H. Hull arranged the lyrics to an ancient Irish folk tune called Slane.

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower: Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine Inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won, May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Like St. Patrick, I want my light for Christ to shine defiantly in a world of darkness.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

~April Dawn White

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