Saint Patrick’s biography has many great stories. Unfortunately, some of the best ones are untrue or are greatly exaggerated. And not just the most obviously mythical tales, like his banishment of snakes from Ireland. For example, contra the commonly accepted belief, the Emerald Isle’s patron saint did not introduce Christianity to Ireland. Nor did he popularize the shamrock to the point that it became an Irish symbol. Below are thirty things about that and other widely believed but untrue historic facts.
30. A Revered Holy Man Whose Life is Surrounded by Many Myths, Legends, and Untrue Accounts
The primary patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick might be the world’s most famous saint thanks to holidays that bear his name that are celebrated in the United States and other countries. The beloved saint’s life story is full of many myths, legends, and untrue accounts. Of those, the best known are probably the one in which he banishes the snakes from Ireland, and another in which he popularized the shamrock and made it an Irish symbol. People commonly assume that Saint Patrick was Irish, but he was not. He was born circa 390 AD to a Christian deacon and his wife in the Roman province of Britain in what is now England, Wales, or Scotland – accounts vary.
When he was sixteen years old, Patrick, or “Patricius” as he wrote his name, was seized by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. After six years of slavery, he fled his captivity and returned to England. There, he received religious instruction, before he returned to Ireland – voluntarily, this time – as a missionary. He did not introduce Christianity to Ireland. He might have helped spread that faith there, but there was already a Christian community in Ireland before Patrick’s arrival. In 431, for example, before the earliest estimate of Patrick’s arrival in Ireland, Pope Celestine sent a bishop named Palladius “to the Irish believing in Christ“. It indicates that there was already a sizeable enough Christian community in Ireland to warrant a bishop.