Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday celebrated around the world. Much of what is shared about St. Patrick is based on folklore and exaggerated storytelling, according to historians.
Getting to the truth takes a little digging. St. Patrick was born to a wealthy family in modern-day Great Britain near the end of the fourth century. There is no evidence that he came from a particularly religious family, and History.com says it was likely Patrick’s father became a Christian deacon because of tax incentives and not religious devotion.
Patrick first arrived in Ireland after being taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders. He spent ages 16-22 in captivity, working as a shepherd during his imprisonment. During that time he found comfort in his religion and became a devout Christian. Ireland was largely pagan at this time and he began dreaming of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
After escaping imprisonment, Patrick trained for 15 years in Britain, to return to Ireland as a missionary.
Although Patrick played an influential role in bringing Christianity to Ireland, he wasn’t the first to do so. However, he did organize the followers who already existed, converted kingdoms that were still pagan and connected Ireland with the Church of the Roman Empire. Patrick used the shamrock, or three-leaf clover, which was a sacred plant in Ireland, as a visual guide to explain the Holy Trinity of Christianity.
By the 17th century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism, according to History.com.
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