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St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick is the national patron saint, whose emblem is the shamrock, or clover leaf. The tradition is that he taught the Trinity using the single stem but three-leaved plant to explain the three in one god concept.

St. Patrick alleged came to Ireland as slave, captured on the western coast of Britain. His parents may have been high born Roman citizens living in Wales or Cumbria. We are not sure. The tales recounted in the monastic scripts say he was as shepherd in Antrim; he received a strong call from God to leave Ireland and become a priest. The monastic version of his biography says that he walked the length of Ireland before sailing to Britain and then to France, where he was ordained a priest. Then came the second calling to come back to Ireland. This time is was to evangelize the pagan Irish.

Or, at least that is the version told in the monastic annals of St. Patrick. In 2012 the Irish Independent published an article challenging this version of St. Patrick's tale. In their version, St. Patrick, the son of a tax collector, ducked assuming the mantle of the family business by becoming a slave trader to Ireland. Apparently, this was perfectly acceptable behavior in fifth century Briton as the Roman Empire was crumbling. Even in those days tax collectors were not popular, but it extended to being prone to assassination attempts.

Whether as slave or slave trader Patrick did pitch up in Ireland and embark on a mission of Christian evangelism. Regardless whether the monastic Lives of St. Patrick are public relations spin, Ireland definitely became Christian and Patrick, either by deed or mass delusion, became the figurehead of the new religion.

There are many places of pilgrimage associated with St.Patrick. During July there are many pilgrims who climb the Mayo Mountain, Croagh Patrick. This mountain overlooks Clew Bay and is considered a holy mountain. Many pilgrims climb the 764 meter height barefoot as part of the penitential part of pilgrimage.

There is also St. Patrick's Purgatory in the middle of Lough Derg in Donegal. This island monastery has been immortalized in Seamus Heaney's long poem "Station Island." The pilgrimage is marked by pray, little sleep, very plain and minimal sustenance. Many pilgrims also go barefoot during their pilgrimage.

Another focus of spiritual devotion are the many St. Patrick's Holy Wells. One of the largest and loveliest is at Holywell, near Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh. This holy well, which has a cure for nervous and digestive disorders, was a focus of St. Patrick's attention because it was the center of the Crom Cruich cult in the northwest of Ireland.

I have also noticed that there are large rocks, known as glacial erratics, called St. Patrick's Chairs. These are sites that were sacred to pagans and had previously been known as Druid's Chairs or Hag's Chairs. This is a direct example of the newer religion absorbing previous customs.

I will leave you with one of the most famous of St. Patrick's Blessings.

Christ shield me this day:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every person
who thinks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

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