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St. Patrick Legends

St. Patrick and the Snakes


Various legends have grown up concerning St. Patrick, the most popular of the Irish saints.

St. Patrick was not well-educated, a fact he attributes to early captivity. Because of this, it was with some reluctance that he was sent as missionary to Ireland, and only after the first missionary, Palladius, had died. Perhaps it's because of his informal schooling in the meadows with his sheep that he came up with the clever analogy between the three leaves of the shamrock and the Holy Trinity. At any rate, this lesson is one explanation for why St. Patrick is associated with a shamrock.

St. Patrick is also credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland. There were probably no snakes in Ireland for him to drive out, and it is very likely that the story was meant to be symbolic. Since he converted the heathen, the snakes are thought to stand for the pagan beliefs or evil. Where he was buried is a mystery. Among other places, a chapel to St. Patrick at Glastonbury claims he was interred there. A shrine in County Down, Ireland, claims to possess a jawbone of the saint which is requested for childbirth, epileptic fits, and to avert the evil eye.

While we don't know exactly when he was born or died, this Roman British saint is honored by the Irish, especially in the United States, on March 17 with parades, green beer, cabbage, corned beef, and general revelry. While there is a parade in Dublin as the culmination of a week of festivities, Irish celebrations on St. Patrick's Day itself are predominantly religious.

Written by N.S. Gill in 2001.

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