FACT or FICTION? St. Patrick’s Day Facts, Myths and Legends!

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated March 17 and marks the presumed death date of Bishop Patricius in approximately 461 AD. Many facts, myths and legends surround this Irish icon from the 5th century. Test your knowledge of this famed religious saint and the worldwide celebration in his honor with these true/false statements:

  1. St. Patrick is an Irishman.
  2. Green was St. Patrick’s favorite color.
  3. St. Patrick banished snakes from Emerald Isle.
  4. Shamrocks represent the Holy Trinity.
  5. St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates.
  6. Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional meal for St. Patrick’s Day.
  7. St. Patrick raised people from the dead.
  8. St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland.
  9. St. Patrick is not an official saint.
  10. St. Paul, MN is home to the first St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Got your answers? Let’s see how you did!

ST. PATRICK IS AN IRISHMAN

False! Maewyn Succat was born circa 386 AD in Roman Britain as the Western Roman Empire’s influence in was crumbling. Calphurnius, his father, was believed to be a deacon and was from a Roman family of influence. His grandfather was also a priest and his mother, Conchessa, was a close relative of Saint Martin of Tours.

GREEN WAS ST. PATRICK’S FAVORITE COLOR

False! Early drawings of St. Patrick traditionally show him in blue. In the 18th century, King George III created the Order of St. Patrick – its official color was blue. Between the late 18th century and into the 20th century, the animosity between Ireland and Britain grew to the point that Ireland gained independence from the Crown in 1922. Green and St. Patrick’s shamrock were symbols of the Irish rebellion and it seems green replaced St. Patrick’s blue.

ST. PATRICK BANISHED SNAKES FROM EMERALD ISLE

False! According to legend, snakes began attacking St. Patrick during a Lenten 40-day fast he undertook on mountain Croagh. He ordered them into the water and Ireland has been snake-free to this day! Actually, the Ice Ages have more to do with Ireland being snake free. “The Emerald Isle” is an island and was a late arrival from being submerged during the Ice Ages. Many reptiles, including snakes, never had the opportunity to migrate to the island before it rose from the cold sea. The story is more likely a symbolic story of St. Patrick driving paganism from the country.

THE SHAMROCK REPRESENTS THE HOLY TRINITY

Yes and no, so we’ll call it TRUE! The shamrock is a three-leaf clover that was considered sacred by the Celts. They called it “seamroy” and it symbolized the arrival of spring. St. Patrick used the shamrock as a tool in converting the Celts to teach them about the Holy Trinity of the Christian faith – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – which tied into a lot of the Celts pagan beliefs around the number “3”.

ST. PATRICK WAS KIDNAPPED BY PIRATES

True! When he was a teenager, Irish raiders pillaged his home (believed to be on the west coast of Wales) and took him as a slave to Ireland. He tended sheep in northern Ireland (Mount Slemish in County Antrim) for six years for a local chieftain. He lived in virtual isolation with his sheep and prayed over 100 times a day and again at night. In a vision, an angel told him about a ship leaving the coast. He ran off and walked around 200 miles of rugged land and boarded a cargo ship from (possibly) Wexford to return to England.

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE IS THE IRISH TRADITIONAL MEAL FOR ST. PATRICK’S DAY

False! This is actually an Irish-American innovation of the traditional from the traditional Irish bacon (more like a ham slice!) and cabbage. During the potato famine (1845-1852), well over 1,000,000 Irish migrated to the United States, the largest migration of the 19th century. The Irish arrived poor and destitute and were despised by most as ignorant and drunk refugees – they couldn’t even get the most menial of jobs. To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, they substituted the cheaper corned beef for the ham instituting the now accepted tradition of corned beef and cabbage.

ST. PATRICK RAISED PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD

True! According to Jocelin, a Cistercian monk of Furnes from the 12th century who wrote “The Life and Acts of St. Patrick”, among hundreds of other healings he performed, St. Patrick is credited with raising at least 33 people from the dead, “…some of whom had been many years buried…”

ST. PATRICK BROUGHT CHRISTIANITY TO IRELAND

True! After returning to Britain, he continued studying in the faith and was ordained as a priest around 418 AD and then consecrated as a Bishop in 432 AD taking the name Patricius. After hearing a call in a vision from the Irish people to return to Ireland, he received the Pope’s blessing to start his missionary work in Ireland. His first church was Saul Church in County Down, founded in 432 AD, and it is still in use today. St. Patrick also died here – March 17, 461 AD.

ST. PATRICK IS NOT AN OFFICIAL SAINT

True! A surprise to most people, St. Patrick is not an official saint of the Catholic Church. The official canonization process was not formally instituted until the 12th century. Prior to this, “Saint” was unofficially bestowed upon those considered martyrs of the faith or someone who was extraordinarily holy. There are a number of Irish saints before the 12th century but, to date, only one was formally canonized – St. Fergal in 1233 by Pope Gregory IX.

ST. PAUL, MN IS HOME TO THE FIRST ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE

We Minnesotans can be extremely provincial and there is a strong St. Patrick’s Day Parade tradition in the Irish rich history of St. Paul but – False! Early American history records show that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was in 1601 in St. Augustine, FL. It was organized by a Spanish colony led by the Irish vicar Ricardo Artur! It was over 150 years before the next parade in 1772. Homesick Irish soldiers in the English military marched in New York City to honor their country’s patron saint. From that point, the tradition grew into the worldwide celebration that exists today!

So, how did you do? A score of 8+ means you are true Irishman – or an honorary Irishman with a strong love of history! Reward yourself with a true traditional meal – Irish seafood chowder to start, crubeens for appetizers (fried pigs feet!), Irish bacon and cabbage for your main course, a refreshing Guinness (or two!) during the meal, trifle or berry fool for dessert and a nice strong Irish coffee to wind things up! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

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