While much of St. Patrick’s life is clouded by legend, there are some generally agreed-upon facts. Most historians agree that he was born in Scotland or Wales around 370 A.D and died on March 17, 461. So, our celebration of Patrick is on the day that he died. His, birth name was Maewyn Succat, born to wealthy Roman parents, Calpurnius and Conchessa, while living in Britain.
As a teenager, Maewyn was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he worked as a shepherd. It was during that time he began to have religious visions and dreams. In one dream, he was shown a way to escape from Ireland — by going to the coast and getting on a ship. After a perilous journey of hundreds of miles, he arrived at the coast and discovered a ship bound to Britain.
Back in Britain, Maewyn’s dreams continued. In his spiritual autobiography, he spoke of a dream about a man named Victoricus, who came to him with letters from Ireland.
After finding his true spiritual self, Maewyn and or Patrick (his chosen Catholic name) felt he could answer the call to return to Ireland to “care and labor for the salvation of others.” He returned as a bishop around 432 A.D and traveled throughout Ireland spreading the word of God, and built churches and schools.
Patrick’s humility, engaging personality, and knowledge of the social structure in Ireland helped his mission succeed. Eventually he made his headquarters at Armagh (in present-day Northern Ireland). By the time of his death on March 17 between 461 A.D. and 490 A.D., Ireland was almost entirely Christian. St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint.
Legend also has it that while atop a mountain St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland to the sea. Historians suggest that this myth serves as a metaphor for St. Patrick’s good works. Since snakes are a common pagan symbol — and are not found in Ireland — this tale symbolizes St. Patrick’s driving paganism out of Ireland. So which came first? The lack of snakes in Ireland, or St. Patrick’s driving force? I tend to fancy the latter.