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Do you really know St. Patrick?


  • This stained-glass window of St. Patrick is from St. Patrick Church in Natick. March 17 is the feast day of St. Patrick, patron saint of the Archdiocese of Boston. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
  • St. Patrick, patron of Ireland, is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Christopher Church in Baldwin, N.Y. In most U.S. dioceses, the feast of St. Patrick is celebrated as an optional memorial on the saintís traditional feast day, March 17. The observance, however, is typically moved to the preceding Saturday when March 17 falls on a Sunday, as it does in 2019. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

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St. Patrick, patron saint of Nigeria (who wasn't Irish and wasn't the first Christian missionary to Ireland and didn't drive the snakes out), pray for us.

Wait, what?

Popular devotion to St. Patrick might have one believing that he was an Irish pied piper who led the snakes out of the land of Guinness. But there's a lot about the real saint you may not know.

1. St. Patrick wasn't Irish; he was likely born in Kilpatrick, Scotland sometime around the year 387.

2. At the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates (I know, right?!) and taken to the island, where he spent 6 years in forced labor as a shepherd. He learned to rely on God through the difficult days on the cold and rainy island, exposed to the elements while shepherding.

3. St. Patrick most likely never drove any (real) snakes out of Ireland, because the country never had them in the first place. There is no fossil evidence of the animals in the country, and the cold waters surrounding the island make it too uninhabitable for the reptiles to have migrated there in the first place. The legend likely stems from the snakes in icons of St. Patrick, which symbolized the evil and pagan ways he drove out of the country.

4. Americans invented many of the St. Patrick's day traditions as they now stand. Irish soldiers fighting the British in the Revolutionary war held the first St. Patrick's day parades in an effort to stay connected to their Irish roots. The tradition continued, and soon wearing green became the fashionable way to show solidarity with Irish roots on the feast day. In 1962, Chicago dyed the river green for the first time. The feast day didn't become a big celebration in Ireland until the 1970s.

5. Not only is St. Patrick the patron of Ireland, he is also the patron saint of engineers and Nigeria. St. Patrick is credited with the construction of the first clay churches in Ireland, and for teaching the people to use lime mortar rather than dry masonry, thus he has been named the patron of engineers. He is also the patron Saint of Nigeria, which was evangelized primarily by Irish missionaries and priests from St. Patrick's Missionary Society known as the Kiltegan Missionaries.

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